Imagination Iowa is picking up STEAM

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Kristine Sorensen, guest columnist

In the spring of 2014, three dads with a passion for technology wanted more STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) and computer science opportunities for kids and the community. They teamed up with other like-minded, motivated parents to found a free coding chapter called CoderDojo. The Cedar Rapids CoderDojo chapter quickly outgrew the mission of teaching kids to code with the addition of MakeyMakey, LittleBits, 3D modeling and printing, app development, game development, virtual reality, and more.

The idea of teaching kids to code quickly expanded into a full-time program that became known as Imagination Iowa. It was clear that an experienced educator needed to be at the helm to run the program successfully and provide more opportunities for kids to apply their learning to what is relevant in today’s tech based world. In February, I was hired as director of K-12 education. I’ve been a teacher for nine years in addition to working with other academic programs such as College for Kids, Future Cities and Belin Blank. Imagination Iowa’s mission quickly grew to hosting a number of other educational programs including Iowa Girls Code Camp, Summer Challenge camps, Future Cities, Lego League, and the Congressional App Challenge for Iowa’s District 1.

Imagination Iowa is NewBoCo’s K-12 STEM initiative that encourages creativity, fosters entrepreneurship, and helps kids learn how to code. Imagination Iowa is dedicated to providing kids with opportunities to learn skills they typically do not receive in school. All Imagination Iowa programs are project-based and centered on collaboration and hands-on learning. The program is proud to work with a number of experts in their field. The majority of Imagination Iowa volunteers and mentors are engineers, web developers, entrepreneurs, teachers and programmers.

Imagination Iowa’s three main academic focus areas are coding, engineering and entrepreneurship with a STEAM emphasis embedded in all their experiences for kids. With the help of sponsors like GoDaddy, Imagination Iowa kicked off the first year of Summer Challenge camps. Providing 30 camps over the course of 7 weeks (June — July), a wide range of topics were covered, including LEGO Robotics, Math of Games, Programming with Scratch, Mini Shark Tank, Building a Drone, and more. Imagination Iowa received grant funding through AEGON Transamerica Foundation and the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation to provide scholarships for underserved kids in the area. Partnering with Jane Boyd Community House, Boys & Girls Club of Cedar Rapids and Kids on Course, Imagination Iowa was able to provide the opportunity for 125 students in grades 2—10 to attend Summer Challenge camps at no cost.

Thanks to the Rockwell Collins Charitable Corporation and The Hall Perrine Foundation, NewBoCo is in the process of building the region’s first entrepreneurial technology and training hub. This space will include a high-tech maker space, a code school for adults, a virtual reality lab and an innovation classroom space.

• Kristine Sorensen is director of K-12 Education for Imagination Iowa, an initiative of NewBoCo. Comments: Kristine@newbo.co; (319) 382-5128.

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