A good night for STEM

It’s a good night for science in society when at an Innovator Symposium, the distinction between stations for children and those for adults becomes irrelevant.

Tonight at Acera, the Massachusetts School for Science, Creativity and Leadership, that’s exactly what happened: kids were engaging with, say, a talk on immuno-oncology while adults tried to solve the marshmallow challenge or get their hands on a defense robot. Together, children and their parents (or somebody else’s parents!) worked on math and logic puzzles, remotely steered iRobot’s telepresence robot through a museum miles away, designed printable objects on Makers Empire, or watched a drone blow some leaves in the school’s playground.

As a parent volunteer — both my kids go to this start-up school that focuses on project-based STEM education — I’d helped put this event together, and still I could not have predicted the level of excitement that radiated through school tonight. Here were 300+ people on a busy October evening, racing over after school and work and sports, yet so curious, relaxed, exploring. Wanted to know what the buzz around the microbiome is all about? MIT’s Eric Alm had you covered. Wanted to hear the latest about fighting lung diseases in children? Children’s Hospital’s Martha Fishman would show you. Wanted to laugh while you learn and get to know some of the weirdest experiments possible? The Ig Nobel Prize’s Marc Abrahams would point you to research that “can not, or should not, be reproduced.”

By the time my two needed to go home, they had given me a few lectures — like the one about Sonzia’s Touch Easle, which makes the digital world accessible to all — but the most passionate one was about drones: how they are powered, how high they fly, and how we could surely make one on the kitchen island. That’s what the MIT student said, mom! Or something like it.

Well, it won’t be the kitchen island, but I have a feeling we might be able to build an unmanned aerial vehicle at school.