STEMgineering Academy

Joe Abbondandolo August 26, 2019

This novel STEM program was created for middle schoolers.  No STEM background is required to lead the program or do the program.  

The activities are fun and hands-on. We made a hovercraft, a kaleidoscope, a support structure and used a cypher to decode a message.  These are STEM activities, not craft activities.  Kids learn about the real-world challenge and apply their knowledge to build.  We did four of the 20+ options to choose from and plan to do more later this summer. 

All content is delivered on-line including instructions for the youth services librarians and the kids.  Tablets or computers are required.  Kids learn about the problem online and answer quiz questions along the way.  This background information is important because it helps kids do the hands-on portion of the activity (which is the best part!)

This program was developed by Hofstra University over a five-year period in collaboration with Boys & Girls Clubs.  They tested it with select libraries last year and made it available to all libraries in 2019.

Type: Active
Age: Middle school
Optimal size: 11-20
Estimated cost: $100+
Planning time: 5+ hours
Frequency: Weekly

Learning outcomes

In each activity participants learn about a different STEM concept and career.

Participants gain a deeper understanding of the Engineering Design Process.  It is the framework for each activity.

Activity completion is celebrated with an automatically generated certificate that kids can email to anyone and facilitators can print.


There are 20+ short activities to choose from which allows this program to be run several times over the course of the year.  I selected four activities which fit our space and our kids.

Hempstead Public Library Youth Services Program:

  • Need Some Support? - Learn about structural design by creating a structure that will support many library books. Understand the trade-off between performance and cost. (Supplies: index cards, tape and lots of books!)
  • Magical Mirrors - The magic of kaleidoscopes is brought to life as participants design their own kaleidoscope which they can bring home. Learn about optics along the way. (Supplies: Kaleidoscope kit ordered online)
  • Hover Above It All - Learn how hovercraft function and apply this knowledge to create a hovercraft and test them against one another. (Supplies: balloons, water bottle, compact disk, glue gun, tape, fan)
  • Secret Agent - Use the “pigpen cypher” to learn about encryption. Then make an unbreakable code with instructions on where to find a hidden treat. (Supplies: paper, pencils, treats such as a candy or granola bar)

All the curriculum content is delivered on-line for the participants and librarians.  Participants log-on and learn about the real-world challenge and associated STEM career.  They develop knowledge about the STEM concept and then apply it to design and build their solution.  The design criteria are an important component of each activity as participants know how to measure success of their design.  They close by reflecting on their design and discuss how they would modify it.

It takes some time to get set up and run a four session offering but it keeps the cost low to do this yourself.   I selected which activities and then create the flier (they provide pictures, graphics etc).  From the provided supply list I purchased what we needed for each of the four activities.  To read through the materials and try the activity myself took about an hour per activity.  Finally, I had to make sure our tablets were working and I set up the online accounts for the kids.  

The day of the session I got the kids set up into teams and logged onto their accounts.  Ideally each participant would have their own tablet/computer but our kids had to share.  I introduced the activity and walked through the first few sections.  Then the kids got their materials and started to design and build.  The room buzzed with excitement as they failed with some efforts and eventually succeeded!  I had some extra materials so invited parents to form a team and they also got into it.  Thankfully I had an volunteer who assisted.


Kids engaged in the activities and really enjoyed it. I was hesitant initially to lead activities but realized it is straight forward with a little preparation.  The team at Hofstra University was very supportive and helped me get started.  Some learnings:

  • Kids have scheduling conflicts – some, but not all kids, were able to participate in all the sessions. This program accommodates kids that dip in and out.  Each session stands alone.
  • Kids come late – ideally there is an assistant who can bring the late comers up to speed without disrupting the rest.
  • Kids work in teams – the activities are set up for team collaboration. Teams may self-form, but some intervention may be required.
  • Limit the time – time is a constraint in the real world and in STEMgineering Academy. Alerting teams to time remaining pressures them to stay focused and get a positive outcome.
  • Try it out in advance – the instructions are straight forward but by doing the activity before the kids I had a better understanding of what was required.

Other resources

If you want to hear more about our experience, contact me at

The program is online at or contact

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