With an emphasis on experiential STEM-based education and the “Mind of a Maker,” Bethesda’s KID Museum is helping to prepare students for the challenges of tomorrow, as they learn to invent their futures.
KID Museum is a living, thriving innovation space that opens new learning pathways through hands-on experiences designed to show a myriad of career opportunities in STEM fields. The museum is a creative workshop featuring everything from digital technology to textiles. Students have access to technology like 3D printers and laser cutters, and are exposed to engineering, electronics, coding, wood working and more. KID Museum is now the largest US center for maker learning, a hands-on, design-centered approach to education.
The variety of available tools allows students to approach STEM learning from multiple angles and teaches them how to solve various problems through different approaches, explained Cara Lesser, founder and CEO of KID Museum. An example of this is their Invent the Future program. This middle school-level program is structured around the challenge of what can students do to improve life on our planet. Young learners tackle pressing concerns such as climate change, sustainability, and even drug development, an interest driven by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Just putting these tools in front of kids and teaching them how you can solve problems with different models is important. They are developing collaborative skills and learning how to work through the realities of taking an idea and bringing it to fruition. They have space for trial and error,” she said. “We don’t expect every kid to become an engineer or a technologist. But to have this problem solving mindset will benefit them in many different fields they may find themselves working in.”
At the core of all KID Museum programs is their “Mind of a Maker” framework. The framework includes eight points that are central to the attributes important for kids to build: Imagination, Exploration, Reflection, Initiative, Perseverance, Team Work, Skill Building, and Perspective Taking.
“This is what the museum is about advancing at its core, all of these are intricately connected,” Lesser said.
While not every student who comes through KID Museum will end up in the sciences, Lesser said tracking data revealed that 75% of kids who participate want to pursue a STEM career.
“We are a bridge-building organization that provides a look at the range of opportunities for the future,” she added. “KID Museum is about remaking what learning looks like with a focus on building the skills that we need to drive our economy forward and innovation forward.”
That is critical for Maryland and its thriving life sciences and technology ecosystems. The hands-on educational approaches youth experience through KID Museum programs will lay the groundwork for a future workforce that’s ready to hit the ground running, Lesser said. She pointed to numerous career opportunities in the immediate area that would benefit from KID Museum alumni.
Lesser said KID is committed to being part of the solution for Maryland’s future workforce needs in STEM fields. She said the organization is partnering with industry members who are interested in changing educational approaches with real-world solutions in mind.
“We’re changing what learning looks like to bring more people into STEM,” she said.
Since opening its doors in 2014, the KID Museum has served more than 366,000 people.
Of those, about 65% are youth from underserved communities. A little more than half of the youth who come to KID are of youth are African-American or Latinx.
Lesser said the impetus of the museum lay in a desire to make a change in what learning looked like for kids. She wanted a vehicle that would create the problem solving skills that will “drive our future forward.” That means engaging all populations, including those that have largely gone underserved, particularly in STEM-based education. It will help open the STEM career doors for disenfranchised youth, creating a straight line to careers that can transform the futures of individuals, their families and communities.
“We wanted to bring a new type of learning to our community, to move the needle on what learning looks like,” Lesser explained. “We’re a museum but we’re much, much more. We’re a hub for what learning needs to look like for the future.”