THE TECH TRUCK IS A MOBILE EXTENSION OF THE PEROT MUSEUM OF NATURE AND SCIENCE
Three … two … one … blast off! The young campers squealed with pride as their paper rockets soared into the air as part of a program that has enlisted tools made possible by the Perot Museum’s TECH Truck.
While typical summer camp activities include hiking or swimming, these first- through third-graders spent a July afternoon engineering rockets. Then for arts and crafts time, they designed basic coding models.
These children attended an eight weeklong summer program hosted by Totally Equipped Inc., a nonprofit organization with a focus on the professional and educational development for at-risk youth in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. This year, the reading-focused program is integrating STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Art Math) activities to provide a well-rounded experience for students.
Totally Equipped President Cora Ford said these kids are being introduced to things they normally wouldn’t have an opportunity to experience.
“I had a little boy tell me he wanted to be an astronaut. I don’t know if he would have thought of that if he hadn’t shot off the rocket.”
“I had a little boy tell me he wanted to be an astronaut. I don’t know if he would have thought of that if he hadn’t shot off the rocket,” Ford says.
The expansion was made possible by the TECH Truck, a mobile extension of the Perot Museum of Nature and Science sponsored by Dell. TECH stands for Tinker, Engineer, Create, Hack, which describes the hands-on activities delivered throughout North and Central Texas.
The colorful exterior creates the inviting feel of a local food truck, but the inside is stocked with a 3D printer, laser cutter, and countless tools. It’s a kid-friendly makerspace compacted into a vehicle.
TECH TRUCK CAN DELIVER RESOURCES TO ANY LOCATION
The truck model makes it possible to deliver the program and its resources, including equipment and educators, to any type of location. Maybe just as important to these predominantly underserved venues, there is no charge.
Ford also recognizes the appeal for kids to use more technology. This became apparent when one child had a unique request during free reading time.
“One little boy said, ‘I need my Kindle,’” Ford said. “I thought, we’re behind!”
With the mission “Equipping Today’s Youth to Reach New Heights,” the nonprofit was founded by her son, Cedric Ford, in 2007.
There are 26 million science, technology, engineering, and math-related jobs in the U.S. today, according to the Brookings Institution. The TECH Truck gives its participants the opportunity to dream big and pursue one of these careers as an engineer, scientist, or even an astronaut.
Teresa Lenling, director of Public Programs at Perot Museum, described the rocket launch activity as one of the most popular that the program provides.
She noted that the activity doesn’t simply end after the exciting launch. The children instead observe their rocket’s performance, then go inside for another round of designing in order to make improvements.
HOW THE TECH TRUCK WAS CONCEIVED
The TECH Truck team took a similar problem-solving approach to design the program. As part of the development process, Lenling visited a variety of different programs with similar missions. One of the first programs of its kind to hit the road was the SparkTruck, an idea born from Stanford University students.
Lenling said their team then took pieces from the Perot Museum as well as other programs, and thought holistically to make the best product for this community.
“I took all the different elements I saw and tried to figure out, ‘What is the best method of delivery for Dallas specifically?’ and then customized it.”
“I took all the different elements I saw and tried to figure out, ‘What is the best method of delivery for Dallas specifically?’ and then customized it,” Lenling said.
Dell partnered with the project to provide $1.13 million, sustaining the program for three years.
“This is a program that brought together two groups that are really focused on innovation and education,” Lenling said.
By the end of this month, the TECH Truck will have reached over 22,000 people. The confidence instilled in youth, however, extends far past the length of an event or summer camp.
“They can say, ‘I did this at the Rec Center! Now I can go home and look online or take a workshop…’ and it goes a little deeper,” Lenling said.
For more information or to reserve a TECH Truck experience, visit the Perot Museum Tech Truck website. The program encourages people to book out a couple months in advance, as spots fill-up quickly.
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