Higher Education and Technology

STEM teaching program enriching Grand Rapids youngsters

Sylvan Learning Center unveils classes heavy on science, technology, engineering and math.

May 15, 2015
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Sylvan Learning Center
Students participating in Sylvan’s EDGE program are using Legos as part of an initiative to enhance their skills in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math. The Legos are used to build working robots. Photo by Sylvan Learning Center

Legos are a classic toy brand, the focus of a popular children’s movie — and now they also are the creative building blocks being used to teach Grand Rapids youth about robotics technology.

Grand Rapids’ Sylvan Learning Center, which is part of the national Sylvan Learning Inc. franchise, is offering a new program called Sylvan EDGE that is designed to enhance its business and education platform by incorporating more science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, enrichment opportunities.

Sylvan Learning, which offers afterschool programs for students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade and has more than 750 North American locations, launched EDGE in 50 select centers last year, said Hilary Tilton, executive director and owner of the West Michigan Sylvan Learning centers.

The program was launched nationally this year.

Georgia Paulding, director of Sylvan Learning’s franchise development, called the new program an opportunity to bring science, technology and math courses to students in an affordable way that hopefully will “create a spark in students.”

It also offers an advantage with value relevance and allows teachers to engage on a different level, she said.

Overall, EDGE helps prepare today’s students for the STEM jobs of tomorrow, she said.

“These are 21st century skills, and we have to put kids on paths to STEM careers for tomorrow. If we don’t expose them to the love of STEM now, they might not consider that. It’s exciting to see elementary school kids get excited about math, technology and engineering — and do that as their afterschool program instead of sports,” she said.

“We’ve created course levels under this EDGE brand that focuses on (robotics) engineering, encoding and math wizardry. They’re fun, hands-on. … They really inspire kids to tap into their creativity, and that allows them to learn through play.”

Tilton, who runs five brick-and-mortar Sylvan centers and two satellite locations, said the program uses unique and exciting ways to teach students in first through eighth grades about robotics, coding and math.

The robotics class is for students in grades two through six, coding is for students in grades three through eight, and the math class is for youngsters in first through fifth grades.

In the robotics class, students use Legos to build working robots, she said.

“It’s great to see the students light up. Students are familiar with Legos, of course, but when you add in the dynamic of a robotics class, they’re learning the basics of how engineering works and how levers and pulleys work. And seeing all that come together and seeing their faces light up is really cool,” Tilton said.

“This is a new math program we can offer to families, and it’s unique because it’s going to help students build up speed, accuracy, independent thinking and problem-solving skills.”

The classes were also designed to be affordable for working families, Paulding, said.

Nationally, the robotics classes are $149-$199 for six to eight sessions, coding classes are $249-$299 for six to eight sessions, and math classes are $99-$149 per month and include two one-hour sessions per week, she said.

Other Sylvan courses generally cost more, she added.

“The kids love it. It’s fun, engaging, and they really enjoy playing with the technology and learning about these fields,” Tilton said.

“For a long time we’ve been a supplemental education (program), so these new STEM programs are great. It’s something new and needed in the community. I think what’s most interesting about it is it’s really for everyone.”

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