Center Hosts ‘Maker Week’ for Early Elementary Students

Before they headed back to elementary school, a group of children at Pennsylvania College of Technology’s Dunham Children’s Learning Center got a hands-on taste of the technical world, exploring how things are made.

Children tour the automated manufacturing lab, where Penn College students use industry-standard equipment to prepare them for careers in manufacturing engineering.

The children, who spent the summer at the center after finishing kindergarten or first grade, began Maker Week by reading “The Three Little Javelinas,” a Southwestern-style adaptation of the familiar “Three Little Pigs” folktale. Using the javelinas’ home-building experiences as inspiration, the children tested their skill, building the tallest structures they could from two sheets of paper and tape. They then moved on to more versatile building materials: gumdrops and toothpicks.

Children smile at a freshly printed toy.

“The main purpose of the week was to introduce science, engineering and technology concepts and to talk about what engineers and scientists do,” said Eric K. Albert, an associate professor of machine tool technology and automated manufacturing at the college. Albert planned and mentored the children’s Maker Week activities.

They also built robots – brush bots made from pager motors, toothbrush heads and coin cell batteries – from which they learned basic circuitry. From Ozobot, a walnut-sized robot with sensors that follow lines, the children learned basic programming, drawing lines in a different color, direction or thickness to produce different reactions from the bot.

“They were excited to see that a path they created could dictate how a robot moved,” said Barbara J. Albert, director of the Children’s Learning Center. “They persisted when it did not work the way they expected and tried until they were successful.”

… then builds with gumdrops and toothpicks.

A child shows off his paper-made structure …

They molded bouncing balls with a “pixie-dust”-like powder, used a kid-friendly design app to devise superhero toys that they then watched be produced on a 3-D printer, and toured the college’s automated manufacturing lab, where robot arms are among the industry-standard equipment that helps Penn College students to manufacture nearly anything.

“It was really cool,” a child said while rattling off a long list of the “best parts” of Maker Week.

Their final activity used a PancakeBot that produced edible pancake designs from drawings directly to the batter. By varying the cooking time, different tones were produced to enhance the final result.

An Ozobot follows lines, teaching children they basics of “If … Then” programming. (If my line looks like this, then the robot will do that.)

“It’s all part of giving them early experience with technology,” Eric Albert said. “Also, they learned that things don’t always work perfectly the first time.”

Children design a toy using a kid-friendly design app. Their toys would later be produced on 3-D printers.

“The week built on the curiosity children have during the early-elementary years,” Barbara Albert said. “They enjoy making things like Lego structures and craft projects, and they feel empowered by their ability to produce. The week also required them to use basic academic skills like following directions and working in a team.”

The Children’s Learning Center is a Pennsylvania-licensed child care center (Keystone 4 Stars) and is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Elementary Education and the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

To wrap up Maker Week in tasty fashion, PancakeBot uses batter to draw a Lego minifigure onto a griddle.

The center serves students, faculty and staff whose children need high-quality, on-campus care and education while their parents are working or attending classes. The center cares for children between the ages of 12 months and 5 years during the school year, and through age 7 (when space is available) during the summer.

A 3-D printer produces a child-designed toy.

Penn College offers many high-tech “maker” degrees, including the fields of automated manufacturing and machining, construction and design, electrical, electronics and computer engineering technology, engineering and industrial design technology, information technology, plastics and polymer, and welding, as well as graphic design and studio arts.

For information about Penn College, a national leader in applied technology education and workforce development, email the Admissions Office or call toll-free 800-367-9222.

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Pennsylvania College of Technology is a special mission affiliate of The Pennsylvania State University