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MegaBites fun may help build tech work force

Posted on Jan 4, 2018, by

Giving students fun experiences with science and technology now, may kindle enough interest to make predictions of a substantial shortage of workers to fill needed tech jobs a decade from now not as dire as projected.

Fox Cities students with an interest in science and technology are having those experiences through MegaBites, a learning experience born of a partnership including the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Fox Valley, the Appleton Area School District and Fox Valley Technical College.

According to economic modeling cited in a Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction report, STEM jobs will grow at a rate of 8% in the next decade, twice the increase in jobs overall. Still, test scores show Wisconsin students are not making big enough gains in math and science proficiency. The study found 65% of the state’s 4th-graders receive fewer than three hours of STEM instruction per week.

An expansion of MegaBites to involve more low-income or otherwise marginalized students ages 6 to 15 is supported by a $15,000 grant from the Bright Ideas Fund. (See a list of all grants awarded from the Bright Ideas Fund.) The program offers fun and interactive STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) activities at these six locations, including five Appleton schools:

  • Boys & Girls Club of Menasha
  • Badger Elementary
  • Highlands Elementary
  • Columbus Elementary
  • Kaleidoscope Academy
  • Wilson Middle School.

A sphero seems like magic.

The reviews are in.

“MegaBites is fun because I’ve always wanted to be an engineer and now I’m playing with a robot,” said Peyton, age 8.

“I like everything about MegaBites – the colors, the programming, the robots, everything!” Syrah, age 8, said.

The robots are a favorite. The students learn to control a “sphero” robotic ball from a tablet.

“I love how you can program the speed and it’s cool how you get to actually move the sphero,” Caiden, age 9, said.

“I like playing with the sphero and making sounds with it. It was fun and I can’t wait for the next MegaBites!” said an excited Alex, age 8.

MegaBites participants are immersed in STEM curriculum and activities, learning from instructors, mentors, volunteers, professionals and local STEM companies. The program this school year consists of two six-weeks cycles each semester, for a total of 24 sessions.

Each 50-minute session is tailored to meet the age-specific skills and interests of participants. On average, 12 students participate in each six-week cycle. They are allowed to attend more than one cycle.

Caiden learns to control a sphero.

Topics covered include:

  • Image editing with PhotoShop and Pixlr
  • Video creation using Adobe software
  • Web development using HTML, CSS and Dreamweaver
  • IT security
  • Team-building skills
  • Color editing
  • Digital photography
  • Blog writing
  • Computer hardware identification and construction
  • Using Google as a research tool.

The goal of MegaBites is to encourage and inspire students to explore new opportunities, learn new concepts and envision themselves in STEM careers. Ultimately, organizers hope to increase the likelihood of more students enrolling in IT education as they progress through high school and into college.

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