Lily Love stuffed a piece of green tissue paper into a white cardboard snow cone cup as she decided what other materials would allow her "flying machine" to do its job.
The 6-year-old began tugging on the bottom of her pink and purple unicorn leggings, which had little purple flowers sewn into them — an act of nervousness over what to do next. Little did Lily know, despite her nervousness, she was learning problem-solving skills — skills those at West Virginia University's Extension Service urge children to use, even at young ages.
WVU Extension Service was set up at the State Fair of West Virginia this week to highlight a fairly new partnership with WVU and Mylan, a pharmaceuticals company. The partnership, STEM-Care, is a program to expose children all across the state to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and challenge traditional thinking about how STEM skills can be applied.
The "Care" aspect of the program encourages children to be curious, active, resilient and engaged when taking on STEM-related activities.
Joe Duda and Suzanne McDonald, representatives for the program, assisted children at the State Fair with making "flying machines," which consisted of putting different craft materials together in your own way, to see if they would float in wind tunnels.
Lily was still at a loss after stuffing and taping her green tissue paper to her snow cone cup. With tape, mylar, tissue paper and different types of paper cups and paper plates to choose from, she decided to add some mylar to her flying machine to see if it would do the trick.
As she approached the wind tunnel, she stuck a piece of her blond hair behind her ear and stuck out her tongue, bracing herself, to see if she would succeed in her efforts. She placed the contraption into the tunnel and began giggling as, to her surprise, the flying machine remained afloat.
"It's like a super hero," she said as she kept laughing. "It did it!"
Duda and McDonald explained the new program is all about instilling a growth mindset into young minds. If one is not happy with a first attempt, in any sort of activity, it's an opportunity to keep learning and not give up.
"We're teaching kids to be problem solvers," Duda said. "While using the fundamentals of STEM in this program, we're teaching them not only to learn by success, but also by failure."
The STEM-Care program will show children of all ages that learning more about STEM and the career opportunities available within those fields will allow them to be just about anything they dream to be.
With that in mind, the STEM-Care program has a goal to reach children in all 55 counties, Duda said. They have a $5 million charitable contribution from Mylan over a 10-year span to empower West Virginia.
The initiative began in May 2018 after those representing the program realized not all children learn the same way. They knew to get children engaged, they needed to try a more hands-on approach.
"There's just this need for a lot of children to learn how to get engaged with actually learning. We need to motivate kids to want to learn," Duda said. "It's all about seeing a failure, and wanting to build on that to make it a success. We don't want them to be afraid to fail; we want to motivate them to keep trying.
"To be honest, it's all about instilling confidence in them."
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