New after-school program aims to improve STEM skills

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by Haley Church, courtesy of Kokomo Tribune

Can you get to the bottom of the ocean using science, technology, engineering and math skills?

Instead of just watching cartoons or playing video games after school, the Kokomo-Howard County Public Library (IN) has started a program where kids in third- through seventh-grade can actually learn while still having fun.

The new after-school program, called “Digital Divers,” is modeled after Muncie Public Library’s “Digital Climbers.” The Muncie library is located right next to the school, so kids could just walk over to participate in the challenges that allowed them to climb up a mountain and earn prizes.

After hearing about Digital Climbers, KHCPL staff visited the library and learned just how the program works, said Lisa Fipps, director of marketing and community engagement at KHCPL. With the blessing and some help from Muncie Public Library, KHCPL has brought the after-school, STEM-based learning program to Kokomo — with its own unique twist.


“We thought it would be much more fun to do a ‘divers’ program because then we can have the sea and incorporate all of these creatures that kids like,” Fipps said. “Plus it allows us to educate about the environment and the ocean, like what straws can do or the giant mass of floating trash.”

The self-led learning program helps kids hone in on underutilized STEM skills by completing challenges or tasks centered around finding solutions to complex problems using a series of steps. Digital Divers mentors are available to steer participants in the right direction when they don’t understand instructions, but for the most part, KHCPL is encouraging students to attempt to solve problems on their own.

“We can answer questions, but it’s all supposed to be self-guided, self-led, self-taught, so that they learn to learn,” Fipps said. “That’s the big thing in education now — because of technology and how fast the world is changing, the trend in education is for children to be able to find education and to be able to learn how to learn.”

The STEM-based challenges can range from editing photos in Photoshop, using drones or building roller coaster tracks.  “It just allows them to choose their challenges based on their interests,” Fipps continued.

After completing challenges, students will earn points to play games on Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4 or Xbox One, in addition to other smaller prizes like snacks or toys.  “Children from Kokomo can come here and they can have a safe place to be, learn and feel a sense of accomplishment, increase their STEM skills, which will help them and the future, all while earning prizes,” Fipps said.

KHCPL is also encouraging Howard County classrooms to challenge each other and host their own friendly Digital Divers competitions. The Digital Divers room is located in the former multi-purpose room, and Fipps said teachers and entire classrooms are invited to take a tour of the facility, which features a new Mac computer, green screens, a drone and other STEM-related games.

“We would love to see the third-graders from Western to challenge the third-graders from Northwestern to see who can improve their STEM skills or who can reach the bottom of the ocean first,” Fipps said. “It’s just a fun thing to do and anything that they learn here they are going to take back to the classroom.”

Digital Divers is held from 3:30-5:30 p.m.  Monday through Thursday and 2-4 p.m. on the second Saturdays of the month at the main branch of the library, and 1-3 p.m. on Sept. 15 and Oct. 20 at KHCPL South.

Digital Divers has been sponsored by Aptiv, the SIA Foundation, Friends of the Library and a Library Services and Technology Act grant from the Indiana State Library.