Kids’ Tech University is not just for kids

Erin Boyd, an earth science teacher from Floyd County High School, engages Kid’s Tech participants in an activity to determine how long it takes for everyday items to biodegrade in a landfill.

By Kelly Robinson

Virginia 4-H helps teachers make learning about science, technology, engineering, and math fun for students. Hands-on workshops are part of Kids’ Tech University held at Virginia Tech.

“Virginia 4-H gives kids an opportunity for extended building of knowledge and skills outside the classroom, allowing them to explore at their own rate and interest level,” said Kathleen Jamison, Virginia Cooperative Extension 4-H youth specialist. “These workshops help teachers incorporate experiential learning strategies into a classroom environment.”

Kids’ Tech University is a program available to all Virginia students between ages 9 and 12. Kids’ Tech and the teacher workshops focus on encouraging students’ interest in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math) at an early age.

Topics covered in the workshops range from ecology and environment to using math and computers to understanding cancer cells.

“We’re hoping to eventually create a more STEM-literate public,” Jamison said. “By igniting a passion for STEM early in life, we hope these kids will become motivated to pursue a deeper level of learning in these fields.”

In the workshops, university researchers work with teachers to expose them to cutting-edge research topics. Teachers learn about inquiry-based and experiential learning and how it can benefit their students. They then have the opportunity to participate in hands-on activities that relate to the research topic covered that day.

After the workshop, teachers are able to modify the activities they’ve learned and bring those activities back into the classroom. As a result of the workshops, students are exposed to current, relevant research and benefit from their teachers’ ability to connect that research to the class.

“I teach inclusions, so having material for students who are ahead of the others was one reason I wanted to be involved this year,” said Carla Barrell, an earth science teacher at the Gereau Center, in Franklin County, who participated in the Kids’ Tech Climate Change workshops in the fall. “Those students felt like they were part of a club and spent time after school working together and with me, which was fun! I’m going to have them show my other students how to do some of the labs and let them be the teachers, so to speak.”

Kids’ Tech University was first initiated in the United States by Reinhard Laubenbacher, a mathematics professor at the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute, who brought the idea with him from Germany. Laubenbacher, along with Project Director Kristy Collins, conceptualized the Kids’ Tech University program and provides much of the support for the teachers’ workshop portion of the program.