Creating greater access to quality STEAM education is a fundamental part of Piper’s mission and something we strive to do everyday. Over the course of the summer, we donated 10 Piper Computer Kits along with curriculum, professional development, and accessories to the Boys and Girls Club of Alameda to take their STEAM initiatives to new heights.

The Boys and Girls Club of Alameda recently kickstarted their Piper program. A total of 40 students between grades three to six are participating in this enrichment program that runs from September to December 2019.

We caught up with Bill Moore, the Technology and IT Director, and Sue Renner, a volunteer and former mathematics teacher, during one of these Piper sessions with the girls' technology club. We learned how they use the Piper experience to engage students and unlock their STEAM potential.

Q: Hi Bill and Sue, it's great to see you guys! How have the students been enjoying the Piper program so far?

Moore: It's been great so far! I really enjoy sharing with students that the Piper Computer Kit was inspired by one of Apple’s early computers

It serves as a great illustration to the students that this is how innovation happens. As they assemble their Piper Computer Kit and play through the software, they gain so many of the same skills that would have been needed to invent these devices.

We like to tell the students that, one day, one of them might create something revolutionary too!

Renner: I love that the Piper experience covers three aspects of engineering. Students experience mechanical engineering when they build their Piper computers. They learn about electrical engineering when putting together circuits to progress through StoryMode. Last but not least, they learn about computer science and the fundamentals of coding through PiperCode.

Most other STEAM learning tools or programs dwell on coding but often leave out mechanical and electrical engineering. Students are simply put in front of a computer but never realize how it gets put together or how it works. 

With Piper, they learn about the order of operations, how to follow a blueprint to put their computers together. They even learn to operate a screwdriver, which is an increasingly rare experience. 

The kids absolutely love the tactile experience, and as an educator, I do too! It feels like a great, big craft project.

Q: That's awesome! Could you tell us more about how Piper ties into the objectives of the Boys and Girls Club?

Moore: A majority of the students that attend our programs are from low-income families and underserved communities. Some of the students do not have access to computers at home and computer science has yet to become a robust part of the curriculum in local schools.

I've been in technology for about 40 years and the landscape has changed so drastically. It's difficult for some of our students to keep up with the digital divide. The opportunity that Piper represents to interact and learn about technology is rare.

Renner: We're located on the West end of Alameda, and many students in this area would never have had the opportunity to participate in an experience like this if not for Piper’s donation.

Although computers are becoming more commonplace in the classroom, very little class time is allocated for students to actually use them and learn about them. The Piper program exposes students to something unique.

Q: Have you seen any growth from your students since the start of the Piper program at the Boys and Girls Club of Alameda? We'd love to hear about their progress.

Renner: Yes, the change has been dramatic! Some of the girls came into the program with good reading and analytical skills, but they were afraid to use them.

They've never been called on to use these skills because they're always instructed on what to do. One group spent an entire session staring at the blueprint for the Piper Computer Kit not knowing that it was up to them to decide how to proceed.

Thankfully, the Piper experience has freed them from this regimented way of thinking. They have learnt that they have autonomy and can use their logic and creativity to solve problems. Once they realized it was fun and they could organize themselves, they took off!

Q: Fantastic! Before we end this interview, do you have any tips for parents or educators who are trying to introduce their learners to STEAM?

Moore: Find ways to make STEAM learning fun and engaging. Children have to buy into a program. Make the learning and exploration of technology something they want.

Renner: Don't simply approach it as learning about technology. Introduce it to them as learning about how things work. That is far more engaging and a lot less intimidating for kids. When you prove that the magic behind everyday technology is really science, they'll absolutely want to learn about it. I think that's what Piper does.

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Thank you, Bill and Sue, for sharing these amazing insights with us. We are proud to be partnering with the Boys and Girls Club of Alameda, and we hope to continue serving these students, as well as the wider community.

How does Piper make an impact in your community? Share with us in the comments below!