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After-School Initiative Encourages STEM Learning Through Invention

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By guest blogger Alyssa Morones

Lemelson-MIT, which aims to encourage students to pursue careers in STEM, announced a new afterschool program with a focus on creative invention today.

The Junior Varsity InvenTeams Initiative is geared toward 9th and 10th grade students in underresourced schools that have traditionally lacked access to invention-focused tools and programs. Each unit will begin with a design challenge or problem that students must solve or improve through an invention. They will then have the opportunity to build a prototype. For example, the first unit asks students to build homemade rubber shoe soles for a sport or activity of their choice.

Ten schools in Massachusetts and Texas began piloting the initiative last month. Extensions are set to begin in California and the Pacific Northwest in 2015.

"I hope students [in the program] understand that they can be inventors and that they develop the confidence and skills that they need to be the problem-solvers of tomorrow," Leigh Estabrooks, who leads the Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam initiative, said in an interview. 

The program provides schools with grants and asks the schools' communities to match those funds. (The schools can get some help doing so, if needed.) "It's one way that we can get the local community to buy into these types of hands-on projects," said Estabrooks. "So there is an opportunity for sustainability."

More and more programs are sprouting up to encourage students to pursue STEM outside of the classroom. A recent report highlighted the value of tapping STEM-rich institutions, such as museums, businesses, or the federal government, to provide students with after-school learning opportunities. 

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