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Local

NIU's 'Star Wars' STEM Saturday classes capture chidren's imagination

‘Star Wars’ STEM class captures kids’ imagination, dreams

Amelia Weingarz, 8, couldn’t think of anything she’d rather do on a weekend than program her own droid, marvel at 3-D images through a hologram projector and create her very own lightsaber.

Amelia was among the students who learned all about the science behind the “Star Wars” films at Northern Illinois University STEM Outreach program’s Saturday class. 

“We programmed our robot, and it could go around in infinite circles,” said Amelia, a second-grader at North Grove Elementary School in Sycamore. “I’ve always done lots of STEM things, and I like ‘Star Wars.’ I’m having such a great time, and I can’t wait to build and design the light saber.”

Amelia was one of 20 children who attended the sold-out class Saturday. STEM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering and math, and NIU’s STEM Outreach program offers several classes throughout the year. The “Star Wars” theme made this class one of the best-attended, STEM educator Jeremy Benson said. 

“ ‘Star Wars’ is a big thing culturally right now. Everyone loves ‘Star Wars,’ and we’re using the allure of it to get kids thinking about STEM fields,” Benson said. “There are a lot of emerging jobs in STEM fields, and it’s a good idea to be literate of science and technology in general. Having a basic understanding of how things work is a responsibility for all of us.

“Kids need to be ready to operate in a world where there will be even more technology.”

Adam Hearnsberger, 10, was curious to learn about robots and how they worked in the “Star Wars” movies. The home-schooled fifth-grader said he likes being able to make his own droid work.

“I really like science. I find it interesting to learn how stuff works,” Adam said. “I’ve never made a hologram before, and I’m really excited to do that.”  

Vincent Tripoli, 9, had attended other STEM Saturday classes, but he was really looking forward to this one because he’s such a big fan of “Star Wars.”

“I like mechanical things because you can program them and make them move and grab things,” said Vincent, a third-grader at Southeast Elementary School in Sycamore. “I wanted to learn how the robots in the movie were made, and I’m having a lot of fun today.”

Joseph Brown, 8, of DeKalb already knows he wants to be an engineer someday. The second-grader at Brooks Elementary School said Saturday’s class was his third STEM class, and it already was his favorite.

“We can actually program stuff, and you can make a Lego robot move or do whatever you want using a computer,” he said. “I really want to build a lightsaber because that’s my favorite thing about ‘Star Wars.’ ”

Joseph’s father, Larry Brown, said he’s always looking for STEM-related activities for his son because Joseph loves science.

“This is really good for him. I’d rather have him be here and learn with the hands-on approach than Google things at home,” Brown said. “He’s also a massive ‘Star Wars’ fan and was really interested in this class.”

Brianna Van Garsse, 10, was having some trouble making her robot move, but nonetheless, she was having fun trying to make it work.

“I wanted to learn how to program my own robot because I like coding and science,” said Brianna, a fourth-grader at Southeast Elementary School in Sycamore. “I want to be a scientist when I get older. I’ve been to two other STEM classes here, and they’re very cool.”

Brianna was one of several girls in the class, and STEM Outreach student worker Jasmine Carey was happy to see that. It’s important to get more girls interested in STEM fields, Carey said.

“The STEM fields have been male-dominated for a long time, and we want girls to understand that they’re just as capable. We want to get them started early,” she said.  “Younger kids tend to shy away from math and science because of fear or not fully understanding them, and it’s good for them to get comfortable with it. We create a relaxed environment with fun activities.”

Science is one of Kayleigh Kerman’s favorite subjects in school, and she couldn’t wait for the class because it combined her love of science and “Star Wars.”

“This is cool because you can tell the droids what you want them to do and they do it,” the fifth-grader at Wasco Elementary School said. “It’s fun to experiment with new things and see how things react.”

For information about NIU’s STEM Saturday classes, visit www.niu.edu/stem.

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