Although schools are still in lockdown, global technology giant CGI’s acclaimed STEM from Home project is helping keep young people engaged with learning, with free activity packs full of scientific projects and technical  activities continuing to entertain, inform and educate

A COLLECTIVE groan was almost certainly released across the nation when the new lockdown was announced, and parents realised home schooling was back.

Fortunately help is still at hand in the shape of the increasingly popular STEM from Home packs released online by global tech company CGI.

Originally intended just for employees, referred to by the company as members, the packs have been such a success they are now available to everyone across the world.

CGI members, clients, suppliers, and members of the public have caught on to how useful they are - not only to keep children entertained but also to help them with their education.

As part of its corporate social responsibility programme, CGI had already been running STEM camps in schools and with community groups to stimulate interest in science, technology, engineering, and maths but the physical events had to be postponed when the first lockdown was announced last March.

Rather than accept a forced hiatus, the company quickly pivoted and began to design STEM from Home packs instead which were released on a weekly basis, initially for members only, then for the wider public once it was realised how popular they were becoming.

There are now 22 packs on the website and the company will continue to release packs throughout 2021.

The existing packs have been replicated across Europe and in countries such as Australia, India and the United States. They have also reached 145,000 people via social media.

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“Parents like it because it keeps children occupied, which obviously is not the main aim but it is an added bonus,” said Luke Kittow, who designs most of the content. 

“All of the activities are fun so children are enjoying it and not even realising they are learning at the same time.”

He said one of the reasons the programme had been successful is that it is dynamic. 

“No two weeks are the same and there is creative as well as technical content, additionally there is the opportunity to take it in whatever direction you like which is why it has helped reach across the age groups,” said Kittow.

Although children aged from six to 14 can work on the packs on their own, many parents have chosen to complete them all with their kids, spending over 100 hours on the activities.

“It’s quite surprising how many people followed the programme each week throughout the first lockdown, but it is something you can do as a family as it keeps everyone engaged,” said Kittow.

As well as traditional STEM content relating to the school curriculum, the programme also contains packs designed especially for Halloween and Christmas.

The new packs will be released on a monthly basis with topics ranging from mental health, the environment and  BAME issues.

“We want to keep it fresh and parents are happy new content is coming,” said Kittow. 

“People are also now wanting to create STEM from Home packs in partnership with us which adds another dynamic, perhaps where we don’t have the expertise. 

“For example, for our robotics pack we worked with Robotical, the company that makes the Marty robot, and we had a Marty prize for one of the activities. We also worked with Child Exploitation and Online Protection Command (CEOP) for our communications pack and for our music pack we partnered with Jon Chase who writes rap poems about STEM to help children learn about science.”

Kittow said that even when the pandemic is over the resources will remain available. “As much as we love going into schools we can reach a lot more people virtually than we can in person at a STEM camp although we are looking forward to those returning,” he said.

As well as releasing more content throughout the year, CGI is going to release a special STEM virtual book with 100 hours of activities. Some of these activities have existing packs but there will be bonus content and information about careers in the industry.

“The great thing about the packs is that they are very adaptable and very much open to interpretation,” said Kittow. “They can be as complex or simple as you like which is why they can reach such a wide age range. They don’t have to be completed in any order as they are all standalone packs so if you are interested in a certain topic you can just pick that one up.”
 

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STEM from Home task

GEOGRAPHY

Geography is the topic for the 18th pack in the series and gives participants the chance to code a virtual guide to their country, take a geography quiz, research famous STEM inventions from around the world and create a poster to educate people on pollution.

The pack demonstrates that geography is the science of the earth’s surface, atmosphere and features. Through geography, the pack explains, people can learn about different cultures, traditions and languages from around the world as well as important issues such as pollution, natural disasters, war and conflict and how to protect the planet for future generations

The technical challenge shows children how to make their first website by creating a guide about their home country. All that is required is a computer capable of running Trinket.

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The activity shows how to use an online editor to create a website made up of HTML files and a CSS file, how to build a HTML website that has headings, paragraph text, lists and images, how to use CSS code to control the look of a website, including designing a simple menu bar, how to change colours, backgrounds and borders, how to link pages to each other and links to other websites and how to create a table that includes headings and multiple rows.

The research activity covers pollution and explains that Earth has an atmosphere that is made up of many different gases which are in the right proportion to encourage life on earth but advances in technology, an increase in production levels and increased transportation have all contributed to an imbalance of gases, causing global warming. 

Here children are asked to create a poster to spread awareness of pollution and its negative side effects. They should include the main causes of pollution, the affect it has on Earth and how people can help to reduce it. Posters can be hand drawn or produced digitally using Word, PowerPoint or Raspberry Pi’s Wanted Activity.

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STEM from Home task

NATURE

Topics covered by the packs include nature which forms the theme for pack 17 in the series.

Activities include growing fruit and vegetables from scraps with a helpful template that outlines how to do it.

The material explains that growing our own fruit and vegetables can help to save money, reduce food waste and teach valuable lessons about nature and sustainability. It explains that fruit and vegetable scraps can be regrown indoors year round and planted outside during the spring and summer.

The bonus activity on the pack is how to make a homemade bird feeder from recycled materials and explains how providing natural food sources for birds can help them feed their chicks by supplementing natural food sources, allowing more baby birds to survive and giving birds energy for migration.

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The technical project is called Sunrise and helps children learn how to animate a simple scene using CSS. They are asked to use the CSS @keyframes rule to animate various properties of images and divs.

All that is needed is a computer capable of running Trinket to write HTML & CSS online. In this activity, children learn styling and animation with CSS. It introduces the @keyframes rule for defining steps in an animation and reinforces the use of properties to define the size, shape, position and colour of elements on a webpage.

The research activity in this pack is a nature crossword designed to test nature knowledge about animals, plants, weather and seas. The template gives descriptions to help participants work out the nature-related word which should fit in the allocated space on the puzzle. It is suggested that children time themselves and challenge members of their family to beat their time.

This article was brought to you in association with CGI as part of The Herald's STEM campaign