So much of 2020 was focused on figuring out how to do old things in new ways. For years, we have been focusing on bringing people together in as many ways as possible, but when the world went remote we had to adjust. This went beyond business needs. We had to adjust almost everything, including our STEM program.
Co.Lab, presented by Open Source Stories, is a learning experience that introduces young students to the power of collaboration, community and open source. Using open hardware and open source methodologies, Red Hat mentors teach students why being open is a better way to work together and a more effective way to solve problems. Since its launch in 2017, Co.Lab primarily existed as in-person events that shared the principles of open source and collaboration with more than 700 middle school students in 12 countries.
School has looked very different this year. Parents, teachers and school districts have all had to make decisions about whether or not students would be in a classroom, virtual or a hybrid approach. And more often than not, afterschool programs have been put on hold. But in this space, we found a way to continue our work and meet the needs of providing STEM education to students.
Bringing the experience home
We decided to create a self-serve version of our Co.Lab experience that parents can do with their children or let them explore on their own. It allows for flexibility as there is no set timeline, so students can work through the activities at their own pace.
In April 2020, we released the Co.Lab Robot Kit aligned with the Open Source Stories documentary film, How to Start a Robot Revolution, which includes everything needed to build an open source robot that can scroll a name in lights, run a maze and follow a line. In October, we released the Co.Lab Farm Kit inspired by our film, Farming for the Future. This kit includes three activities that help students create their own mini-farm while learning circuitry basics. They can also watch the film to learn how open source, agriculture and education are coming together for a fresh perspective on the food system. And coming this month, we will debut the Co.Lab Light Sensing Kit, which will teach students how breadboards work and guide them through experiments in creating simple circuits. This kit explores how to track changes in light using a sensor and how these changes can affect the speed of a motor.
Since the need for social distancing kept us from bringing students together in person, we did what everyone did: We went virtual! But the switch wasn’t as simple as turning on video conferencing. There were a lot of details to work through. Our Co.Lab kits teach students STEM skills, but they also focus heavily on the definition and value of open source.
Once we determined the curriculum, we knew the best way to test out the virtual experience was with children of Red Hatters. In August, we brought together 11 students via video conferencing to learn the basics of circuit design and build an LED greeting card. Then in October, we conducted two more beta workshops with nine students to make sure we were ready for prime time. On Jan. 18, in observance of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, we worked with Red Hat’s Blacks United In Leadership and Diversity (B.U.I.L.D.) community to host four workshops for students, where they learned how to build an LED greeting card.
To purchase your own self-serve Co.Lab kits, visit the Red Hat page on the SparkFun site. And stay tuned to our webpage to keep up to date on the next kit’s release and other Co.Lab news.