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.”