Families and children of all ages gathered at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Challenger STEM Learning Center for the first-ever STEAMagination festival on Saturday, Oct. 21, a celebration of science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM).
The Challenger STEM Learning Center promotes career exploration for children, provides STEAM learning labs and simulated space missions and often hosts field trips and summer camps for K-12 students.
Rob Lein, an exploration specialist at the Challenger Center, underlined the importance of making education enjoyable.
“Learning is experiential, so to engage learners, you need all sorts of tools. There’s an innate curiosity that learners have,” Lein said. “A set of blocks can become a building and an empty room can become a spaceship. Learning, to me, is just fun and it’s a chance to engage with the world.”
The STEAMagination festival, in collaboration with WTCI PBS, Hamilton County Schools, the Arts-Based Collaborative and the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum, had an array of free activities for the community.
Visitors could embark on simulated space tours, with shuttle launches every 30 minutes. One station allowed guests to build Rigamajigs, a building kit with wood, wheels, nuts and bolts. At another station, kids could also complete the spaghetti tower challenge by supporting a marshmallow with raw spaghetti, string and tape.
The “Creation Station” was a hub of science-based arts-and-crafts, where students got hands-on, creating solar objects using paint and styrofoam. Little ones could play in the “Sun, Moon and Stars” baby STEAM studio with musical instruments and edible paint.
WTCI PBS also contributed to the learning experience with stations equipped with tablets for educational coding games and a booth with free stickers and children’s books.
Hamilton County Schools, a longtime partner of the UTC Challenger Center, had a space for kids to make binary coding bracelets and fly paper airplanes.
Grant Knowles, the director of Innovation and Fine Arts at Hamilton County Schools, assisted with the activities.
“We love the partnership here. It provides an additional relevance for student learning,” Knowles said. “It’s not just learning from a book in a classroom, it’s being able to come here and take part in the simulation.”
Hamilton County Schools STEAM Innovation Coach Jessica Holloway shared her excitement about the possibilities.
“It’s exciting knowing that with the partnership here, our students can come explore space and STEM activities, get excited about just being curious and understanding the world around them,” Holloway said. “Making, creating and just having fun and learning at the same time is so important.”
Challenger Center Executive Director Laurie Allen explained that their hopes for the STEAMagination festival are to increase the visibility of their work and build bridges in the community to create more opportunities for a variety of learners.
“The ultimate purpose as part of the Challenger Learning network is to inspire the next generation,” Allen said. “We don’t know what careers and opportunities are going to be needed in the future, so that opportunity to develop those creative and critical thinking skills are so important.”
Like Lein and Holloway, Allen emphasized the importance of having fun and getting messy with learning.
“Messy is magical. We get so caught up in mistakes,” she said, “but when we think of messy as a magical moment, that’s where the real learning is.”