The STEAMpunks Club

I've been meaning to write about my after-school program for students in grades K-5 for months now, and here it is, almost the end of the school year (gah!). I wrote a little piece introducing the club for the Library as Incubator Project and another post about our second "Art" themed day is due to be posted on that site soon. 

Our S.T.E.A.M.punks listen to an introduction to Pablo Picasso and abstract art from a local artist and retired art teacher. Photo property of Laura Damon-Moore.

Our S.T.E.A.M.punks listen to an introduction to Pablo Picasso and abstract art from a local artist and retired art teacher. Photo property of Laura Damon-Moore.

Working on clay sculptures of abstract birds. Photo property of Laura Damon-Moore.

Working on clay sculptures of abstract birds. Photo property of Laura Damon-Moore.

Working on paper bag masks, using a Picasso dice roll game to pick facial features. Photo property of Laura Damon-Moore.

Working on paper bag masks, using a Picasso dice roll game to pick facial features. Photo property of Laura Damon-Moore.

Final group drawing activity - the adult helpers went around the room and draw random lines on these big sheets of graph paper. The 'punks then had to fill in the rest of the drawing as a team, and then present their drawing to the group. Photo property of Laura Damon-Moore.

Final group drawing activity - the adult helpers went around the room and draw random lines on these big sheets of graph paper. The 'punks then had to fill in the rest of the drawing as a team, and then present their drawing to the group. Photo property of Laura Damon-Moore.

Program basics:

  • For students K-5.
  • Hosted by the library on the school district's early-release afternoons, which happen about once per month (in March we have two activity days since we decided to do one over spring break).
  • A one-time club registration is required, to collect contact information and to make note of any allergies the kids might have.
  • I plan and facilitate the activity days in partnership with a group of very awesome, very dedicated volunteers, a few of whom are retired teachers. The group-think aspect of the planning and facilitating relieves a lot of the pressure, plus they are much more experienced classroom "managers" than I am, so they can help address behavioral issues right away.
  • We loosely tie the activity day's theme to one of the letters in S.T.E.A.M.: Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math. Obviously there's some crossover (for example, we're doing projects related to both Art and Technology in our Robot themed activity).

Our first year of the S.T.E.A.M.punks Club has of course yielded a lot of good things:

  • The program is quite popular with both kids and parents, and fills a need (something worthwhile to do during early-release school days).
  • Our setup (which is usually 2-4 stations with a book and snack at the end) means that the kids are both occupied for the entire program, and they get exposure to a variety of skills/projects that will hopefully spark their interest in more in-depth projects later.
  • This program is terrific PR for the library, and a really good way to partner with local organizations and individuals. For example, we had a retired art teacher/artist visit our most recent program to talk about Picasso's work, and in May, we will have a birding program outside to support our town's Bird City program.

And inevitably, there are some challenges too:

  • It's hard to find activities that appeal to such a broad spectrum of ages and skill sets! We try really hard to offer projects that can be leveled up or down depending on the age of the student. 
  • Our numbers are ALL OVER THE PLACE, and there's not a great way at the moment to accurately read how many kids are going to attend (since we do not REQUIRE registration for every activity day - just the one-time club signup, plus an encouraged RSVP beforehand). For example: in January, we had 16, our lowest number of the year. In February, we clocked in at 27. And for our first activity day in March, we had a walloping 43...
  • Figuring out supply needs and costs for such a wide range of numbers and types of projects is always a challenge. Luckily we have stalwart financial support from our Friends of the Library, which gives a pretty sizable chunk of money for us to work with when it comes to picking and purchasing supplies for our S.T.E.A.M.punk projects.

What I'm finding is that pretty much all of these challenges can be addressed with a) experience b) idea-bouncing with our volunteer organizers and c) not being shy about asking for donations from the community. We will take a break from the S.T.E.A.M.punks Club over the summer, and I have a feeling there will be some revamping for next fall. For a first year of a new large-scale program, though, we've been pretty happy with the results overall - and most importantly, the kids have too!