Continuous learning is more than finding ways to bring learning into the workplace. It's the idea that learning doesn't stop at graduation – it's a lifelong pursuit. Over the last ten years, there's been a push to use STEAM programming – science, technology, engineering, arts, and math – to instill that idea into children of all ages.
In Waterloo Region, a group of local community leaders have come together to make STEAM as common as hockey, basketball, and soccer for kids.
Modelling its STEAM program after minor sports, LAUNCH Waterloo aims to build on a model that has generated sports superstars and has become part of the fabric of Canadian culture. Just like basketball or dance, hockey or gymnastics, now kids can enjoy seasons of STEAM activities.
We recently had the opportunity to talk with LAUNCH's co-founder Tobi Day-Hamilton to find out exactly how these programs foster children's creativity and curiosity, what they're doing to help bridge the digital divide in STEAM education, and how people get involved in supporting this vital initiative.
The importance of the "A" in STEAM education
Waterloo region is known for its innovation, with world-class universities and research institutes that have cultivated a vibrant technological center in Southwestern Ontario. Given this fact, you may find it hard to believe that the region has one of the lowest high school graduation rates in Ontario. Beyond the innovation and hype, there is a whole crop of young minds getting left behind.
"These young people need to know that there is opportunity out there for them, a place where they fit into the community," said Day-Hamilton. She said that focusing on the arts ensures that kids are curious, critical, and empathetic thinkers. "By including the "A" in STEAM, kids become more than just consumers of tech, they become creators of tech."
STEAM League online
The LAUNCH STEAM League brings all the best things about minor sports to STEAM programming. Kids are put in teams led by coaches and have fun with science, technology, engineering, art, and math.
Pivoting to online programming in Summer 2020, teams of children entering grades 3-8 participate in programming virtually, with two sessions each week over a 10-week season. Coaches lead, share, encourage and inspire kids with fun activities, team challenges, and maybe a few surprises along the way.
"Even after a full day of online school, the kids are loving it," said Day-Hamilton.
Custom STEAM kits packed with supplies and activities for the season are delivered to each team member's doorstep and are used throughout the season. The end of the season features a LAUNCH Tournament where teams work together on grand challenges and compete to see which team takes home the LAUNCH Championship.
The importance of mentorship
STEAM League coaches are enthusiastic, willing to learn, and ready to share their curiosity to encourage kids to be curious and creative as well. "No matter how bad of a day you have, going online and seeing these kids' enthusiasm is going to change your day completely," said Day-Hamilton.
Mentorship is good to get into at any stage of life, and coaching kids can be a great way to learn your management skills transferable to skills on the job. If you can be a great coach – you can be a great manager.
In the future, LAUNCH hopes to see the community rally together with the same team-building and volunteerism as minors sports, with parents and community members taking on coaching roles. LAUNCH anticipates that more teams, divisions, and tournaments will grow as enrolments grow, building a community of STEAM Enthusiasts.
A space where creativity, curiosity, and innovation thrives
In our culture, we're used to the idea of building hockey arenas everywhere across Canada. We rally around our kids and their games in hopes of the next star coming from our hometown. Day-Hamilton stressed that we need to emphasize the things that matter most in the future – creative thinking and STEAM education.
In 2018, HIP Developments devoted five floors of its latest development project in Uptown Waterloo to the LAUNCH program – by donation. To be located on the corner of King and Bridgeport, this space will be a tech training arena for kids, built by the kids.
With plans to build over the next few years, LAUNCH will continue to develop its programming with the kids to best support them and give them a chance to provide input for their space. "It is important that this will be a community space where the kids feel like they belong," said Day-Hamilton. "The building will be theirs."
Bridging the digital divide
We can all think back and picture the kids in our classes growing up, the ones who left class early to go to a hockey tournament, and the ones who stayed behind. The fact is, to participate in these kinds of activities, there is a clear dividing factor –money. Now more than ever, we're seeing this divide in the digital world, with online learning showing this gap – not every kid has a Chromebook.
So, does having a dedicated space for STEAM education help close this gap? Day-Hamilton said yes, it does. LAUNCH is a non-profit organization supported by Google, BOSCH, House of Friendship, and more, with financial assistance available through bursary applications. The physical space will be a safe community environment, open for everyone and anyone.
"We don't want any child to be left behind." said Day-Hamilton. No matter the area of study or profession young people choose, to be successful, they will need to be comfortable asking questions and solving problems." If we can teach kids to be resilient and adaptable, we've done our job."
Imagine our children being the stars of the innovation economy and changing the world from right here at home. With STEAM as an overarching goal, LAUNCH looks forward to a future of creative problem solvers, no matter what area of study young people choose.
To learn more about LAUNCH, their upcoming programs, volunteer opportunities, and more, visit their website. If you have any questions or ideas for a partnership, get in touch.
If you are interested in learning more about belonging and youth in our community, visit Children and Youth Planning Table and Smart Waterloo Region's information hub.