Small Factory’s STEAM Based Portal: Students Have a Blast Challenging Themselves to Achieve More
Small Factory Productions is known for offering students ages 5 – young adults a host of “arts, technology and multi-media classes for young, digital minds”. While many of these classes and seminars are highly structured, with curricula defined by the instructors, families also can bring their kids in to the studios in Fair Haven or Manalapan to engage in open sessions using Small Factory’s state-of-the-art equipment. These ‘open’ sessions are opportunities for students to set their own agendas for how they use the technology, to satisfy their curiosity and their drive for making and creating.
Once open sessions were implemented, however, instructors and Small Factory founder, Chris Dudick, often found that kids defaulted to projects that were most familiar and where they already identified strengths. Building and coding in Minecraft is one example. Chris and his team were thrilled to see kids feeling empowered by the chance to set their own goals and take initiative, but they knew that it’s also important to incentivize young people to challenge themselves — to learn more and do more than they think they can.
“We wanted to find a way to encourage them to push past their perceived limits without taking away their feeling of agency and self-motivation,” Chris says. “My studies and my experience, coupled with my own need to set and exceed goals, all engaged one day into this idea of a unique incentive system. I wanted to make it fun for kids to be competitive with themselves and earn rewards for taking risks with learning and making. And that’s when the Small Factory Portal was born.”
Chris Dudick is an accomplished educator. He was nominated for New Jersey’s Student Teacher of the Year in 2011 and is currently pursuing a Doctorate in Educational Technology. In 2012 Chris won an Emmy for ‘Socially Conscious Cartoons.’ His extensive experience working with children’s programming on several TV networks coupled with his educational training helped him shape and structure Small Factory’s STEAM Based Portal.
Here’s how it works: students log in with their own username and password, they then get a choice of projects to choose from and each completed project is awarded points based on complexity and the amount of initiative required to meet project goals. The more challenging the project, the more points are awarded. Instructors include notes in the comments section of each student’s personal Portal page about their progress and hints to problem solving along the way.
Projects are judged based on a student’s portfolio of work including a screen shot or picture of their finished challenge and a short, written description of what they learned and what they liked most and least about the experience. Small Factory instructors don’t award points based on perfect execution, but rather on the amount of effort and diligence kids put into the tasks associated with the project.
Points can be redeemed for meaningful prizes such as Amazon gift cards or a 3D print of their choice.
Parents also get their child’s login information and password. This gives parents the opportunity to follow along with the investigation, asking questions, praising progress and brainstorming with their children about the teacher’s problem-solving hints. It’s an opportunity to share time with children outside of shuttling them back and forth to practices and lessons or birthday parties. Each project has a specific set of goals and clearly articulated instructions to help students move through the tasks, so it’s easy for parents to find a place to engage where they’re most comfortable.
Launched in September 2016, initial reaction to the STEAM Portal has been extremely positive.
Elizabeth De Quillacq’s son, Ambroise, of Fair Haven, has been using the STEAM Portal since it was launched. She is very excited by what she’s observed so far:
“It’s absolutely fantastic,” De Quillacqu enthused. “Ambroise is seven and like all kids his age —and even younger and older — they’re ALL are obsessed with earning points. Since he started using the Portal, he’s tried several new kinds of STEAM projects…things he wouldn’t have necessarily pushed himself to try except they are projects where you can earn a high point value…and that sold it for him. And you know what? He’s thrilled. He pushed himself and accomplished more than even he thought he could — all thanks to his drive to earn those points. It’s fun and it works!”
Dudick concludes, “The whole idea is to challenge the kids to see themselves as creators, makers, capable of anything and to try something new, something that they didn’t think they COULD do.”
Anyone participating in activities at Small Factory Productions can sign up for their own, personal sign-in for the Portal. Ask Kim for more information: 732.212.1088.
The Power of Creating and Doing at Small Factory
Personalized STEM Instruction for Ages 8 – Teens
We live in an increasingly interconnected world with a growing reliance on technology. Children attending elementary and middle school are commonly referred to as digital natives and many adults assume they possess an innate understanding of how technology works.
They don’t. In fact, though post-millennials (also called the iGeneration, Generation Z and the Founders Generation) are in fact comfortable in a world that seamlessly incorporates tech into everyday life tasks, this generation is particularly vulnerable to being trained as consumers rather than creators.
Small Factory Productions Instructor, Brian Ericson, is working to flip that script for the kids enrolled in his classes.
Not Just a Confusing Box of Parts: Hands-on, Project-based Learning Focused on Tech Hardware Gives Kids an Immediate, Practical Edge in STEM
“Why did I say ‘yes’ when Chris (Dudick, President and Founder of Small Factory Productions) asked me to teach?” Instructor Brian Ericson answers his own question. “Honestly, it bugs me that kids are using computers and tablets in the classroom and at home for their work, games and other apps and they don’t know anything about how and why these devices work. Too many of us see computers as this confusing box of parts–kids, too. They can’t even name the major parts correctly. And it’s not that confusing when you just sit with someone and do a simple build. In a few hours, you have a very good understanding of this machine you depend on for so much.” Brian Ericson
Ericson became an adjunct instructor at Small Factory Productions in August. Monmouth County native and resident of Fair Haven, he works full-time as the IT Director for his childhood elementary and middle schools — Viola L. Sickles and Knollwood.
Brian is a self-professed geek who describes his educational background as a combination of traditional coursework with self-directed experimentation and a couple of stints as an apprentice to accomplished professionals in the IT and music industries. While still attending Rumson-Fair Haven High School, Brian and a buddy started their own, successful IT company, and immediately prior to his current position with the school system, Brian was a senior product support team member for Microsoft and assisted with the historic launch of the X-Box One system.
Brian was recruited by Small Factory for his considerable skill in demystifying the hardware infrastructure that enables so much of the work, research, social interaction and outright fun we engage in on the internet and across all our various devices. In keeping with Small Factory’s culture of kinesthetic, real-world learning — kids in Ericson’s classes engage in an experience that is closer to an apprenticeship than any lecture-style program.
Project-based teaching in all his classes puts Brian at the shoulder of his students as they immediately apply new knowledge to create something that they choose themselves and has some particular, motivating meaning to them. Together, they disassemble or deconstruct tech, identify and categorize components, decode instructions, apply growing knowledge of design and build, reassemble and test their creations. At the end of each course, students walk out with something they can hold, show off and see every day, both as a reminder of what they can make and also as an inspiration to set more challenging goals.
Brian offers three classes at Small Factory: PC Building, PC Hardware Troubleshooting and Soldering.
In the PC Hardware Troubleshooting course, students are encouraged to bring in their own, slow or non-working equipment to learn about the components, how they work together, identify issues and fix them. Demo tech is provided by Small Factory as needed. Ericson explains, “The process of identifying a problem that is preventing them from using their tech the way they want — and fixing it — this gives students a real understanding of how what they’re using every day works. It also makes them smart about solutions instead of relying on someone on a chain store repair team just telling them what to do.”
In his Soldering class, Brian proves that, — what might at first appear as an ordinary skill — is in reality a subtle craft. Knowing how to solder directly connects a person with hardware through a process of creative thinking, planning and project execution. Especially for computers and similar circuitry-based tech, solid soldering skills give a person power to prototype anything they can imagine — they are inventors and innovators, not merely ‘skilled users’.
“A person who knows how to create tech with his or her own hands,” Brian says, “is in complete control of how to apply that knowledge. That’s real power — creating exactly what you want to create so it does exactly what you want it to do.”
Like with all programs at Small Factory, these classes are designed to give kids the chance to transform their thinking and see themselves as capable of reaching any goal. “It’s so satisfying to see a student who comes in struggling to connect with the material, land on that one particular piece of knowledge that ‘flips the switch’ for them and all the sudden they not only get it, they can’t get enough of it,” Ericson asserts.
Brian tells a story of one student who seemed completely disinterested in the PC101 class for the first couple of sessions. Then, during the third session, Brian introduced students to their capstone project, the Arduino Kit. The kit is an exercise in building that teaches simple circuitry and draws connections between the student’s experience with the introductory kit and more complicated projects.
“All at once, this kid brightens and starts smiling. ‘I’ve done something like this before…this is pretty cool!’ And right then, he connected the concepts we were discussing to an application he cared about, and from that point on he ran with it. Turns out he’s really talented and interested in engineering and tech but just needed that push to get past theory into the excitement of actually making something that did what he wanted it to do.”
On And On They Go: Small Factory Instructors Give Students the Time and Tools to Stay Motivated and Making
In fact, many students who come to Small Factory for a course or camp with Brian continue to work with him on projects even after a course has ended. “There have been a bunch of students that become so intensely curious and excited by a project that they want to keep working on it after the conclusion of class — so I extend the offer to all my students for private sessions at the Small Factory studio to expand on a project or explore completely independent projects.”
Is your child ready to explore and engage their STEM abilities and graduate from the consumer class to the Maker class? For more information about Small Factory programs or to schedule a tour of Small Factory Productions, call (732) 212-1088 and ask for Kim.
Brian’s determination to give kids the practical tools they need to graduate from consumers to creators isn’t simply theoretical.
“Every student who takes my PC Hardware Troubleshooting Class goes home with a set just like this. I use this every day to do my job and on my own, personal DIY projects. There are cheaper, smaller kits out there, but we’re not teaching kids to get by with the minimum. I want them to understand that what they’ve learned makes them capable of learning and doing more — and they deserve the best tools to do that, both in my class and when they leave.”
Teen Finds Ways to Give Back Through Mentorship at Small Factory Productions
At just 17 years old and entering into his senior year at Freehold Township High School, Matthew Grieco was watching the news one day and saw students at Rice University building a mechanical arm out of 3D printed parts. The students were later going to donate the arm that they had made to a person who was missing a hand. From that moment on, Matthew was intrigued and inspired to create the change that he saw on his television.
“I had always been fascinated by 3D printers, but now I could build something and then donate it to help someone else,” Matthew said. “I am always thinking of how to give back to the community, and this was a perfect way to couple that with my passion for engineering and my curiosity with 3D printing.”
Matthew instantly picked up the phone and started making calls to people and places that would allow him to use their 3D printer to print the parts he needed to start building his own mechanical arm. At first, he didn’t have much luck, but after one specific phone call, his project was set into action. Matthew talked to Chris Dudick, the owner of Small Factory Productions, who was excited about his ideas and eager to help him.
“Chris allowed me to come in and use Small Factory’s 3D printer to facilitate the printing part of the assembly of my 3D hand,” Matthew said.
Matthew’s journey into engineering did not start here however. Since he was a child, he was always interested in building things, from Legos to K’nex to erector sets. As he got older, he loved helping his dad with projects around the house, like assembling things from IKEA and even helping to build the shed in their backyard. But when he found out about the 3D printed mechanical arm, he knew he had to do it.
“I knew that building the arm would be a nice personal challenge to see if I could do it all by myself,” Matthew said.
He kicked his project into gear by first finding the files for the parts that he would need to print. Along with the 3D printed parts, there were other materials, such as screws and finishing line that he needed to purchase. Once the parts were printed, he sanded and filed them down so that they would move correctly. Things did not go smoothly though, as some parts ended up breaking in the process. Matthew realized, however, that although there was not much room for error, he is not perfect and this was his first time building something like this. Practice makes perfect.
After correcting his errors, he began assembling the pieces. Of course there were no instructions, so Matthew relied on YouTube videos to help him. As he continued, it became easier to assemble, but he reached an obstacle when a part that he needed was missing.
“I knew I’d have to improvise and I started thinking. I went to my dad’s workbench and started to think about what I could use to make it work and it hit me,” he said. Despite some minor setbacks, Matthew persevered and did not let the adversities and obstacles get the best of him. The entire process of building his mechanical arm ended up taking about 22 hours in total, and aside for some help with the 3D printer from his mentor at Small Factory, Joe, Matthew had no help assembling the hand.
“There is no better gift than the gift of helping someone in need,” he said. “This is rooted in me because of an experience I had as a child.”
When Matthew was just 5 years old, he was in a car accident that broke his neck. Doctors told his family that he should have been paralyzed, and it was a miracle that he lived and is able to move today. When he was recovering, he had to wear a bulky halo that was screwed around his head and secured by a vest that he wore around his torso.
“Knowing the pain and humiliating stares I got from strangers, and knowing that there was nothing I could do about it, I wanted to help a child in my position,” he said. “Making this hand has given me the same feeling because now a child does not have to get stared at or asked awkward questions by people who do not understand his/ her condition. I am very privileged, and it feels great to help someone who is not as fortunate as I have been. “
Matthew came to Small Factory primarily to build his mechanical arm, but because of his successes, he will now continue his journey and relationship by serving as a mentor to other children.
“I will be there when a child does not know what to do and I will help to show them the right direction, but still have them do it by themself,” he said.
Matthew finds it important to guide children rather than completing the task for them so that they can do it on their own. “I will be helping children build and create the same way my father helped me build when I was younger.”
Having Joe as mentor enabled Matthew to learn, gain confidence in what he was doing, and ultimately help someone else. Chris is also allowing and encouraging Matthew to make more hands to donate, and he has already started the computer work on the next one. He is hoping to donate many over the next year.
“I am very grateful that Chris, Joe and the entire Small Factory Productions team was so eager and helpful. Without them and their support I have no doubt in my mind that I would not have accomplished what I have and would not be capable of helping those in need, and for that I am forever appreciative.”
For more information on opportunities at Small Factory click here.
New Small Factory Membership Program Offers More Learning Opportunities
At Small Factory, a new school year means we’re in full swing with new classes, and even a new membership program! The membership program is back in action after some revamping, and is a great way for students to explore different medias and technologies while giving them access to today’s best software and technology programs.
“This year, there’s going to be a ton of different projects and things that kids can work on weekly,” said Chris Dudick, owner of Small Factory. “They’ll definitely be able to figure out if they’re more the engineering type, the art type, or the coding type. Kids will have the chance to experience all types of projects that we offer to figure out what they really want to learn about and go into with more depth.”
Small Factory’s new program is introducing a Proprietary Online E-Learning Portal with a rewards-based point system, five weekly STEAM-based projects, parental notification of completed projects, student journals and at-home use so students can log in at home and continue the work they started at Small Factory.
“There were a lot of things we learned from the first year, and access to many different projects at the same time is something we want to offer,” said Dudick. “We also realized that a point system and parent notification are all things that were interesting to our members last year, and we were able to develop an online platform that would give kids access to all the different things that we’re doing in the studio, but that they would also be able to do it at home as well.”
Small Factory is always encouraging kids to explore passions and find new ways to learn.
“If you’re an athlete, you have baseball season or basketball season, but if you’re into tech and media, there’s no season for that. Kids need access to all of these things to grow and learn, and that’s what we give them,” said Dudick.
The membership program will give students access to STEAM-based projects and classes after school at the two campuses — Fair Haven and Manalapan. Teaching projects will be based around coding, art and engineering.
Classes start the week of September 12, and will run Monday through Friday from 4:15 to 5:30 p.m.
The membership program is still the same low price of $50 per month, with a $20 drop-in fee for non-members. Small Factory will be offering students a chance to sign up for a free three-week trial from Sept. 12 to Sept. 30, five days a week from 4:15 to 5:30 p.m.
The first 50 (25 in Fair Haven and 25 in Manalapan) students to email firstname.lastname@example.org will get a free trial membership. Please be sure to specify which location you are interested in.
Other classes being offered this fall include 3D Printing, 3D Video Game Animation, App Making, Minecraft Programming, Voice Acting and more. To see a preview of the fall schedule, click here.