THINKit kits to help create next generation of tech leaders

By Anna Hrushka,  Pacific Business News.

THINKit kits to help create next generation of tech leaders

An educational tool kit called THINKit might be the key to helping Hawaii prepare for the projected increase in STEM-related jobs in the coming years.

For the past month, students from 27 public schools across Hawaii have been using the kits’ tools to help grow their understanding of science, technology, engineering and math in the classroom. Launched by the Maui Economic Development Board’s Women in Technology Program, the kits contain material meant to educate students on six STEM themes: 3D prototyping, coding, virtual reality, digital media, circuits and hardware, as well as geographic information systems and drones.

Isla Young, director of K12-STEM education for Women in Technology, told Pacific Business News the cost of the kits range from $3,200-$5,000, and each was given to schools participating in the STEMworks program free of charge. Non-STEMworks schools and private schools will have the option to buy the kits on their own. Funding for the kits came from the Office of Naval Research, the Department of Education’s 21st Century Community Learning Centers and private money from the MEDB Ke Alahele Education fund.

“Throughout the state, there has been a recent push to make sure there’s equity with our young people, that all schools are offering some kind of STEM learning,” Young said. The launch of the kits comes after Gov. David Ige announced plans to spend $6.8 million in private grants to promote STEM jobs in Hawaii earlier this year.

The initiative is the state’s effort to prepare Hawaii for the projected 16,000 more STEM-skilled workers needed each year. That STEM workforce is something THINKit creator Melinda White hopes Hawaii’s students will be prepared for through the use of the kits.

“The kits will help students make that leap into actually accessing 21st-century skills and align them with the current tech careers and current opportunities that exist,” said White, who is the program manager for Women in Technology. “Having students actually get their hands on this technology and start practicing really helps broaden their world and broaden their future career possibilities.”

Designed with Hawaii curriculum requirements in mind, the kits are divided into three different categories, each targeting a distinct educational level: elementary, middle school and high school. Prior to the kits’ launch, over 50 teachers from across the state were invited to participate in a professional development class to learn about the various THINKit tools.

“I think over the past five or six years, our schools, teachers and our community are really realizing that we have to engage our young people differently,” Young said. “They have to be exposed and have these opportunities so that we’re creating our next generation of leaders.”