For those not directly engaged in the areas of technology, communications, engineering and scientific development, it may come as a surprise to learn the CSRA is truly a hub of innovation and progress. Among those responsible for this upswing is the local incubator and collaborative workspace, theClubhou.se.
Located in the Old Richmond Academy building at 540 Telfair Street and established by Eric Parker and Grace Belangia, theClubhou.se is a center for learning and entrepreneurship. The concept is at once simple and complex — introduce the wider public and local business leaders to innovation and sustainability through collaboration.
What does this have to do with our children? Quite a lot, as it turns out.
The community members of theClubhou.se encourage local youth to pursue and involve themselves in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) activities. It is actively exposing children in our area to the concepts of self-directed creativity, entrepreneurship and technology through structured mentorship, maker camps and other programs.
The further we advance into a technology-enabled lifestyle, the more important it becomes to connect with one another and form high-impact partnerships that encourage out-of-the-box approaches to education and production. This is done by connecting experts — mentors — in various fields with the means to produce functional, beneficial projects and products that benefit the wider community.
And while children are often introduced to STEM subjects in school, and are often surrounded by creative and technological outlets, it is their personal levels of involvement and engagement that theClubhou.se is focused on developing. Teachers and educators ensure children study these areas in school, but often restrictions in the form of time, resources and even practical knowledge result in merely skimming the surface of possibilities. Through no fault of their own, they cannot support a deeper level of connection for each individual student.
This is where theClubhou.se helps.
From 3-D technology and robotics to encouraging self-directed creativity, it empowers kids to explore new ideas, to become immersed in the creative process and how to practically apply what they are learning in schools. The organization is founded on five basic principles that shape everything it does: risk boldly, honor your commitments, be worthy of trust, give more than you take and share solutions. These values are essential tools for kids to not only learn, but put into practice.
Members play a vital role in this process. Chase Lanier has become an impassioned advocate of nurturing the creative process since becoming a member of theClubhou.se in 2014. An art educator in a past life, Chase is now the program coordinator and building manager at theClubhou.se headquarters on Telfair Street. He is devoted to instilling confidence in self-directed learning in Augusta’s youth by encouraging children to see the value in what they create. It’s a perspective that broadly reflects the ethos of theClubhou.se.
“We look at a person’s skills and at what they are passionate about,” Lanier explained, “and where we are most effective is assisting where the two intersect.”
It was a personal encounter that convinced him that his strength lay in showing children they are capable of learning outside of the confines of formal education. Working in a restaurant, Chase witnessed a parent instructing their child how to color a cow “correctly.”
“After the third time of being told the coloring job was not up to par, the child put down the crayon and did not color anymore,” he said. “That is when I decided I wanted to work with and encourage people to free explore their interests.”
Since its inception in 2013, theClubhou.se has established four programs that support local youth: MAKE Camp; the Maker Mentorship program; a Young Makers group; and, the Sumo Robot League.
The MAKE Camp takes place during summer vacation. Past activities include flight simulation, website design, 3D printing, learning about green screen and Photoshop, and silk screen printing. Lanier says there is much more to the camp than structured learning.
“We provide the environment for kids to focus on productivity,” he explained. “They can be learning coding through the Code Academy one day and then the next we’re onto showing them how a green screen works, which then leads to playing with programs like Photoshop. The onus is on taking ownership of the creative process.”
Campers have the opportunity to design products that they can actually physically create using the in-house 3D printer. From looms to a quadcopter, kids have been challenged to create functioning designs and then must learn how to program the printer in order to see the results. The outcome has been nothing short of amazing; Lanier feels he was able to make a difference to not only the kids’ self-confidence, but also open their eyes to the fact that what they are creating is important.
“They are instructed on how to program using languages such as Python and Java, but they are not taken through it by another person,” he said. “It’s all them; they have to do the work which validates their interests and boosts their self-esteem.”
The Mentoring program matches mentors with students and focuses on learning something technology related on a weekly basis. Again, the premise is based on self-directed learning. Learning takes place in the organization’s Maker Space — a lab that contains computers, printers and tools that can be used to make any number of things.
For instance, the child may be interested in programming, but discovers along the way that the thing they are programming can be physically created via 3D printing. In this instance, they would design, program and print their own creation while the mentor assists.
Young Makers is a group that meets every other Thursday for two hours from 6-8 p.m. Members of theClubhou.se can take part at no charge, but, for those who aren’t members, the cost is an affordable $2 donation per session, or $48 per year.
Ed Esner, theClubhou.se’s engineer member, conducts a different activity for each Young Makers meeting. From electronics to basic coding, each week presents a new and exciting opportunity for kids to learn how to work together to overcome challenges, focus on a small project and learn numerous practical skills. After discovering how a line follower robot functions, the Young Makers group even created an “autonomous scooterboard” using some scrap parts from an old power wheels and some wood.
Of all the programs theClubhou.se provides, the Sumo Robot League is the one most closely aligned with STEM educational goals and curriculum. In fact, it’s available to every place of education and every child in the CSRA regardless of whether they are charter, private, public or homeschooled.
Founder Grace Belangia explained that the program was launched at theClubhou.se and allows every child to make their own robot, which involves computer programming, critical thinking and design. But, it’s also fun because at the end of the building and programming comes a “sumo-style battle to the death.”
The league requires the purchase of a robot kit, which would normally run between $200 and $600, but through the Sumo Robot League the cost of an individual kit is much less. Through a series of learning units, children compile the robot using electrical circuitry, computer-aided design and 3D print adaptive components. And they learn how to code in order to program the robot using code sensor based autonomous response algorithms using C++.
When the robot is complete, kids pit their robots against others sumo-style. The robots are placed in a ring and while controlled by their creators, must push their opponents out of the ring. The robot who remains in the ring is the winner.
Lanier explained, “The league may seem simple, but it actually introduces children to very real-world, complex skills and encourages peer-to-peer learning.” It also allows children to explore STEM projects and activities in a safe environment. Children are exposed to wiring, soldering and even how to create the app that allows them to control their robot from their phone.”
Like everything theClubhou.se provides, the league is a staged learning experience, but the results are transformative and have a very real impact.
“We help kids with moments of self-discovery,” Lanier said. “They find that while they are able to work with others, and gain resources and ideas from others, they are not actually reliant upon others. There’s a light bulb that goes off in their heads and they see they can collaborate with other people, but at the end of the day it’s their achievement. And their achievements matter. It’s very important. Integral, even.”
Join theClubhou.se at Barnes and Noble for their nationwide Mini Maker Faire, coming up November 6-8. The faire welcomes tech enthusiasts, educators, tinkerers, hobbyists, engineers, science club members, authors, artists, students, entrepreneurs, crafters and makers of any kind. For more information, visit barnesandnoble.com/blog/announcing-the-barnes-noble-mini-maker-faire-november-6-8-2015/.