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.