A biomedical engineering lab at UC Irvine is trying a bold new experiment: crowd-funding a lab project to address lagging rankings of Science Technology Engineering and Mathematic education (STEM) in the United States. Michelle Khine’s Lab at UC Irvine has launched a one-month Kickstarter campaign to produce and develop an “inventor’s kit” meant to engage, enable and empower children to “play” science at an early age. Using “A Hundred Tiny Hands” kits, kids can investigate such topics as optics, the properties of water or the fundamental concepts of circuits and electricity. The campaign to produce current kits and develop future kits began February 24, 2014 and will end on Wednesday March 26. At least $50,000 is needed for the project to get funded.
The U.S. is currently ranked 52nd in Science Technology Engineering and Mathematic (STEM) education. With a continual decline in Americans pursuing advanced education in STEM fields and with the fact that most engineers receiving Ph.D’s in the U.S. are not U.S. citizens, Khine believes that there is an undeniable need to foster and culture ‘home-grown’ innovators. The low retention rate of student interest in STEM at the K-12 grade level has been identified as a major factor in this crisis. Current teaching methodologies, along with the steep learning curve of certain STEM topics, deter many students, especially at a young age, from further pursuing STEM. In particular, says Khine, current methodologies fail to engage girls in the STEM fields.
Khine’s lab responded to this problem by creating a way in which children could engage with science in a fun and social way. Using technologies invented in their UC Irvine lab, the Inventor Kits will teach basic science concepts with accompanying story books and cartoon characters that take children through a science curriculum. A Hundred Tiny Hands also will consist of an online community that will let young inventors post, share, and discuss new ideas and inventions and participate in challenges.