Baldwin Park Elementary students are learning coding, robotics, stop-motion filming and more through after-school STEM clubs.
For an hour after school, there were Legos, ring lights and construction paper all over the floor of Baldwin Park Elementary’s STEM lab.
About 20 children, many armed with iPads, surrounded the pieces and props as they laid out the storyboards they were working on. Within each group of two to four, one child was taking pictures of the scene at hand as the others were tasked with moving the pieces. Their energy mirrored their excitement as the room was filled with chatter and brainstorming.
Little by little, the elementary students pieced together the masterpieces they were working on — a short, stop-motion film.
The Stop-Motion Filming Club is part of BPES’ STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) extracurricular sessions, and it’s a hot commodity among students. It’s also the second of a series of after-school, STEM-related clubs that the department has hosted this school year.
This is the second year that BPES has had its STEM lab, and while the program’s instructors still are building its foundation with help from the school’s Bobcat Fund, its rapport with the students has taken off rapidly.
The school’s Bobcat Fund, established in 2009, allows parents and local businesses to donate to and raise funds for school improvements. Last fall, it was able to write a $60,000 check to make the STEM lab a reality. This year, the fund has put in another $30,000.
That lab includes a 3D printer, iPads, laptops, coding robots, circuit boards, virtual-reality headsets, drones and much more.
“We have Spheros, which are codable robots,” STEM lab instructor Jessica Krell says. “We have more snap circuits, all the way down to first-grade level now. We have one for almost every grade level. … They’ve added more Oculus VR headsets, we have Bloxels and we also have Osmos, which are code-able iPad pieces.
“(The Bobcat Fund) did buy more stop-motion filming pieces for me — I asked for more sets and ring lights, and they got a lot of furniture for me,” she says. “This whole room wouldn’t be possible without the Bobcat Fund. The kids enjoy every minute, and then we want to keep expanding and learning new things.”
With a lab of this caliber, the possibilities are endless. That’s why Krell and Jamie Weiss — the school’s curriculum compliance specialist — have worked to create curricula for multiple STEM clubs focusing on various topics, from coding to robotics and more.
In fact, one of the first fall clubs this year involved Lego Mindstorms, high-tech robots meant to teach coding. They specially coded the robots and racers to navigate through mazes and race tracks. That involved learning how to code loops, forward motions, stops and turns. The challenges might seem daunting for the non-tech savvy, but for the children, it was an opportunity to keep trying until they succeeded.
Every new piece of equipment we get, if we see a potential for an after-school class, we’re going to jump on it. We just keep creating and people show up.” — James Weiss
“In middle and high school, you have those things — film club, robotics club, woodworking,” Krell says. “It’s nice that these kids at such a young age have it here, because they learn so fast. It’s insane how fast they pick it up. When they’re young like this, if they get it wrong, they’re just like, ‘OK, what do I do, how do I fix it?’ It’s nice to see them just keep going, not getting frustrated with it.”
Late last year, the children were in their fifth session of stop-motion filming and nearing completion.
“We started out with leaning what a story board is and how filming comes together,” Krell says. “Most of them are doing brick film, which is Lego-based filming. It’s like the Lego movie and those really cool films that are out there. It’s basically really small motions, where they’re taking individual pictures and it becomes film by frame per second.
“Since we’ve been here, they’ve been producing and creating, and we’ve had one group that has already done their film and wanted to make another one,” she says. “This is our second year for this STEM lab, so we’re still kind of building on ourselves, too, to make sure we have the foundation we need.”
After the last session of the fall Stop-Motion Filming Club, the students got to watch each other’s short films and talk about the pros and cons of the things they learned. Discussions ranged from what they could have done better or differently, as well as what worked and went well. Additionally, the students got to share their creations with the school — their short films were taken off the iPads and played on the TV throughout the school.
The students’ enthusiasm for the topics they get to learn about in each STEM club rotation is the main reason why Krell and Weiss continue to offer and build upon them. And while the students are learning in each session, Weiss describes it as organized play and creation.
“This is very removed from school,” Weiss says. “This is not something they’d do in school with this type of freedom. They would do this in school, but there wouldn’t be the flexibility and time; it wouldn’t be kids who all have the same interest who all are going to want to work together to create the same project. It’s not a structured classroom where we’re delivering instruction and quizzing. We explain and teach the first day, and then it’s on them. They take off; we’re here kind of on a consult (basis).”
Krell said she and Weiss try to cover different subjects within the clubs to touch on different interests and realms of technology. And even though STEM careers and extracurriculars have traditionally been male dominated, more girls are involved in the clubs this year than last.
“STEM has not been a really female-dominated subject, and we’re getting a lot of girls, which is nice,” Weiss says. “The last class when we did the Lego robots, it was almost half girls. … It’s nice to see that there’s an interest from both genders, not just the guys.”
Krell and Weiss also have hosted two Robotics Club sessions and will do another in the spring. The popularity of each STEM-related club can’t be denied, either — the club capacities fill up within a week.
“That’s the reason why we’ve done so many — they’re wanting to learn, so you want to keep that going,” she says. “You want that interest to keep festering, you want that excitement, especially taking that creativity and applying it without realizing that they’re learning a serious skill. … We have so much in this lab that has been donated that I want the kids to be able to experience as much as possible from what (the Bobcat Fund) has given us.”
“Every new piece of equipment we get, if we see a potential for an after-school class, we’re going to jump on it,” Weiss says. “We just keep creating and people show up.”