One of my favorite memories from elementary school was a challenge—build a bridge out of common classroom supplies that could hold up a textbook. We tried a myriad of different things, but they all crumbled under the weight of our math and history books. And while I don't remember what exactly worked, the thrill of building, testing, and redesigning has stuck with me since that faithful day in sixth grade.
Those steps—building, testing, and redesigning—are the main principles of engineering, says Molly Wilkinson, senior manager of business development at Sylvan. And they form the basis for Sylvan's new EDGE program, which features classes in engineering, robotics, coding, and math. (They'll be available in all centers starting this fall.)
Here at Parents, we got an up-close look when Sylvan offered to let our editors' kids test a condensed version of the classes over the course of a day. They took over our conference room with Legos and K'Nex to race cars, program robot monkeys, and go over pertinent vocabulary. "The kids had fun so they didn't realize that they were learning important STEM concepts," Wilkinson says.
And it's true—our kids had a great time. There were multiple times when a kid bolted from the conference room to grab Mom or Dad and show them what he had built. And along the way, our little ones picked up some key concepts. Grant, a first-grader, told me how he built and rebuilt his robotic monkey to make it work, illustrating the trial-and-error process. Emily, a second-grader, explained the concept of friction, saying, "It can help move stuff, but also slow you down," which she saw first-hand while racing Lego cars on the carpet.
But, the most impressive display came at the end of the day, when Joseph, a fifth-grader, built a bridge out of K'Nex. Unlike the flimsy bridges I constructed in sixth grade, his structure held more than 100 pounds without collapsing. While watching Joseph stack reams of paper on the bridge (see the picture above!) exclamations of, "I can't believe it can hold that much!" "Get more stuff to put on it!" and simply "Cool!" demonstrated the draw of science is powerful indeed.