Volunteers helping make STEM activities come to life

Volunteers helping make STEM activities come to life

kids working on STEM experiments in water basin

Volunteers helping make STEM activities come to life

Walk into the learning center at the Middlebury Clubhouse on a Wednesday afternoon and you’ll see a dozen young members engaged in activities that look fun, but also stimulate their reasoning skills. Similar scenes are playing out at the Clubhouses in Elkhart, Goshen and Nappanee.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Elkhart County is utilizing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) mentoring grant to offer unique activities for members in Middlebury and Elkhart. The Clubs are working with ETHOS Innovation Center in Elkhart to put together the materials. Volunteers then help lead the activities.

kids working on STEM experiments in water basin
Members at the Elkhart Club build clay boats as part of a STEM program (top photo). Volunteer Mike Groff works with members at the Middlebury Club as they prepare a robot experiment (bottom photo). 

Mentor working with boys on STEM project instructions

“The fulfillment for me is getting them to think. I want to stimulate their minds to think outside the box,” said Mike Groff, a volunteer at the Middlebury Club.

He volunteers each week with his wife, Rose, who is also a Middlebury Club board member.

“Kids are our future. I think it’s important that we make special time for that. They have lots of great ideas and they can learn a lot — WE can learn a lot. It works both ways,” Rose Groff said.

The grant program is providing access to materials that might not be readily available at the Club. Middlebury Area Director Erin McNeal says the program is offering “cool experiences” to the young members.

Members in both Elkhart and Middlebury recently practiced problem-solving skills and learned about buoyancy while building boats out of clay. Their goal was to get the boats to float. They then tested how much weight they could hold before sinking by adding paper clips.

Another session involved programming a robot to perform tasks. Members paired up with one person acting as the robot and the other giving commands. After some practice, the “robot” was blindfolded and had to pick up items and place them on a table.

McNeal says in addition to these problem-solving activities, the members are getting to practice interaction with the adult volunteers.

“It’s also great that volunteers are the mentors for this. The members benefit from seeing people beyond the staff come in and spend time with them on a regular basis,” she said.

The volunteers say they enjoy watching the kids learn how to solve problems through the activities.

“If you don’t let them try and err, they don’t learn anything. You have to let them fail to learn. You want to be there to give them guidance so they can figure out the right direction to go the next time,” Mike Groff said.