XjenzaMania, a summer school organised by the University of Malta Cottonera Resource Center (CRC), involved 65 participants between the ages of 8 and 13 years, who followed an intensive six week programme designed specifically around science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics with intriguing topics from biology, chemistry, physics and mathematics.
The various programmes were designed to help the children become junior scientists for the summer and embark on a series of educational adventures which trigger scientific curiosity in them. Inquisitive thinking was triggered by Mathematical trails, developing engineering solutions and programming through robotics, game design using Minecraft portal for schools and understanding various physical concepts using Physics science kits as well as experiments. This was done to get students fascinated and curious about how the world around us works.
Enthusiastic graduate students from the Department of Biology, Chemistry and Physics within the Faculty of Science at the University of Malta volunteered to give demonstrations and hands-on engaging and informative sessions on the topics discussed in class. Topics ranged from environmental conservation to health. Learning took place through hands-on experiments, role-play, cooking sessions and games thus ensuring that the children had a truly unique experience thorough an innovative way of teaching science.
This was supported by visits to educational and cultural institutions as well as to potential places of employment. These visits helped students put all activities into perspective. Included were visits to research laboratories at the University of Malta, Junior College, and the Life Sciences Centre, thus giving participants a unique educational opportunity to learn about projects at the frontiers of science, technology and innovation.
XjenzaMania as an initiative is intended to teach science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in a hands-on manner while linking these subjects with the arts. Much has been written on how STEAM workers are crucial drivers of long-term, sustainable economic growth. Jobs in this field are growing at a faster rate and have lower of unemployment than other occupations. Wages in STEAM related jobs are also higher than those in non-STEAM jobs.
Experts underline that the 9 to 12-year-old window is crucial to attract more students into STEAM related fields. One objective of XjenzaMania was to ensure that students see opportunities for themselves in science, technology, engineering and math. This programme exposed students to potential role-models, thereby encouraging them to opt for STEAM related careers, especially when the students come from non-academic and non-scientific family backgrounds.
During this summer school a “growth mindset” (versus a fixed mindset) was adopted. Jo Boaler, a Stanford researcher maintains that when children develop a “growth mindset” they believe that intelligence can be learned and grown from exercise. The organisers did this by encouraging team work and exposing students to creative possibilities within STEAM. Exposure to practical uses of STEAM helped students realize that mathematics, science, technology or engineering are not complicated or hard but interesting and within their reach and they could opt for STEAM related fields in their careers.
Some of the activities conducted at CRC will be featured in Science in the City science and arts festival to be held in Valletta on the 30th September. CRC is also looking for volunteers to assist in its many other projects.