Saturday STEAM Academy Advances STEAM Skills of Young Learners in St. Louis

The Urban League Head Start (ULHS) and Early Head Start programs serve over 900 children ages 6 weeks to 5 years in the Metropolitan St. Louis area. After the disruption of in-person learning and family support due to the pandemic, ULHS created the Saturday STEAM Academy funded by The LEGO Foundation and managed by Tufts University. The goal was to increase support for children and families residing in low-income areas by providing engaging hands-on STEAM activities on Saturday mornings. Eighty-five children attended the five six-week sessions and showed an increase in STEAM skills and vocabulary as well as increased social skills. 

To prepare for the Saturday STEAM Academy, the DevTech Research Group trained 25 ULHS instructors to use KIBO, a robotics platform designed for children ages 4-7. KIBO is a fun and effective way to introduce young learners to robotics and coding. In addition to KIBO, the ULHS collaborated with local organizations to offer activities including design and building, circus, math, art, and even chess!

The Saturday STEAM Academy launched in January 2022 and over the next 18 months ran a total of five six-week sessions. Sessions ran on Saturday mornings and provided both breakfast and lunch. Each session ended with a field trip to the Magic House museum and families were given memberships to return.

A total of 85 students participated in the sessions. Children learned coding and computational thinking skills, including the foundational STEAM skills of symbol recognition, systems thinking, and sequencing that children need to succeed in early math and literacy. In addition, the Saturday STEAM Academy increased peer-to-peer engagement. 

After seeing the impact that KIBO had on young learners, ULHS sent a team of teachers to Boston College in April for additional training with Dr. Marina Bers and the DevTech Research Group. The teachers left enthusiastic to pass their knowledge on to other ULHS teachers in hopes of bringing the Coding as Another Language – KIBO pre-k curriculum into Head Start classrooms.

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