SparkFun Electronics, a provider of parts, knowledge and passion for electronics creation, is excited to announce the company’s inclusion in a new educational initiative between the state of Vermont and For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Robotics.
The groundbreaking pilot program, which is currently in place at 10 Career and Technical Education institutions, offers a $3,000 grant from the state of Vermont to each participating program.
The first $1,000 of the grant is allocated to a SparkFun Inventor’s Kit LabPack (https://www.sparkfun.com/products/10900), which includes 10 complete Inventor's Kits, plus 10 more Arduino Uno boards, Baseplates, Circuit Overlays, Breadboards and Kit Guides. The LabPacks are SparkFun's classroom entry point and combine its ProtoSnap, LilyPad, Inventor’s Kits or Arduino-compatible through-hole soldering kits with support materials, bringing all the power of the open source community to the classroom.
The remaining $2,000 of the grant provides a portion of the fees required for a school to institute a FIRST Robotics program (http://www.usfirst.org/). FIRST was founded in 1989 to inspire young people's interest and participation in science and technology. Based in Manchester, NH, the not-for-profit public charity designs accessible, innovative programs that motivate young people to pursue education and career opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math, while building self-confidence, knowledge and life skills. Currently, there are approximately 300,000 K-12 students who participate in FIRST Robotics teams and annual competitions around the country. The grant will help offset the starting cost a school needs to join the program.
“To me, the Arduino is becoming the backbone for product development,” said Douglas Webster, CTE Coordinator for the Vermont State Department of Education, who worked with SparkFun’s Department of Education to create the grant program. “We were trying to get CTE centers on board to be thinking ‘robotics/automation/integration of technologies’ and Arduino training is a step in that direction. The impact Arduino has on the Maker movement, product development and inspiring youth to become engaged in STEM education is largely untapped. It made sense to offer one grant to purchase kits for both Arduino and FIRST.”
State support for the grant program also shows a significant increase in the scope of understanding about the need to facilitate a new generation of STEM education, with a parallel understanding of robotics and electronics innovation and an open source approach to both.
“It gets the state on board promoting emerging technologies within our schools. STEM education buzz to date has meant strengthening mathematics and science. But with standardized tests and other initiatives, the system has been playing that game for decades and has shown little results,” Webster said. “By supporting enabling technologies that engage youth in creating and innovating – and the integration of the arts – we may yet see an impact on test scores. However, is it test scores we really care about, or is it the innovation? I’d say inventiveness, creation and a renewed culture of innovation. We have too many problems to solve and now, not later.”
“What’s really interesting for us is how Vermont is introducing this highly-successful FIRST system, which traditionally is not open-source, while concurrently introducing the open-source model [of SparkFun],” said Jeff Branson, one of SparkFun’s educational outreach coordinators. “Introducing them together shows a depth of understanding about the value of open source - not only its intellectual value, but its fiscal value as well - that we haven’t seen before.”
SparkFun’s Department of Education is dedicated to improving the interest and diversification in the science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics fields by encouraging kinesthetic and tangible learning with affordable, accessible and relevant technologies. For more information about the company’s education program, please visit (http://learn.sparkfun.com/).
About SparkFun Electronics
Founded in 2003, SparkFun shares its passion by providing parts, knowledge, and innovation for those looking to explore the world of embedded electronics. It helps anyone discover their inner inventor and enables individuals to create their own electronics projects.
SparkFun currently offers more than 1,800 products, ranging from simple components, like capacitors and resistors, to GPS units and Bluetooth modules. The company employs 135 people and is based in Boulder, Colorado.