Alumna leads Next Gen STEM workshop

Promotes robotic inquiry for fourth and fifth graders  

By Dieuwertje “D. J.” Kast

Alumna D. J. Kast BS ’11, MS ’11, MAT ’14 is the STEM program manager for the USC Joint Educational Project and the director of its Young Scientists Program (YSP), which recently partnered with the Computer Science department at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. She is also the STEM coordinator for the USC Neighborhood Academic Initiative.

D. J. Kast (front) with her students.

D. J. Kast (front) with her students

The Joint Educational Project and its USC Young Scientist Program (YSP) hosted a Robotics and Computer Science workshop on April 6, with 50 fourth and fifth grade students from 32nd St. School. This computer science­–based workshop was funded in part through contributions from Union Bank.

The workshop began with a presentation from three fifth grade students from the 32nd St. Viterbi Coding Academy, who demonstrated how they had programmed “Dash” robots to dance to the song “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars. The audience of excited students sang along with the song while the robots danced. It was a beautiful collaborative community of STEM scholars who showed their support and appreciation for these three coders.

The workshop consisted of three hands-on learning stations for students to explore with the assistance of YSP teaching assistants and Viterbi students. One of the stations presented the basics of coding, and students used their newfound knowledge to design electronic moving postcards that they saved on USB drives, which they were able to take home with them.

At the second station, students designed robots on paper with pencils that are connected to a computer with a Makey Makey. This station allowed students to create their own robots with recyclables and control them with the paper counterparts.

The third station allowed students to created bristle bots—tiny toothbrush robots—and programmed them to paint. Afterward, they saw a larger scale robot called the “Scribbler” through which they learned how to control wirelessly.

The Young Scientists Program works in partnership with five USC community schools, from the greater “USC Family of Schools” to engage more than 1,400 elementary school students, 45 LAUSD teachers and five principals through a broad repertoire of science curriculum. YSP teaching assistants, or TAs, are placed at each school presenting hands-on science labs to fourth and fifth grade classrooms. YSP brings scientific laboratory experiences directly to students and their teachers with the goal of supplementing current science instruction, complimenting LAUSD and state grade level science learning standards, strengthening science literacy and promoting interest in scientific careers.