It’s not a secret that American students obtain unimpressive results when it comes to their math and science skills.
The 2015 PISA results — an international assessment of reading ability, math and science literacy among 15-year-olds — placed the U.S. 38th out of 71 countries in math and 24th in science.
To address the lack of excellence in science among teens, a Somerville-based startup is taking an early-on approach by organizing year-round electronics and computer programming classes for children in Eastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Launched in December 2015, Circuit Lab has run around 150 classes since its inception, teaching the fundamentals of resistors and transistors to more than 1,500 third to eighth-graders, Founder and Head Teacher Jake Weisberg said.
Part of what makes Circuit Lab different is its learning philosophy, Weisberg explained. He knows from experience that electronics is a difficult field to enter – especially at a young age with little to no guidance. Weisberg, who has a background in education but a degree in Human Ecology, not a traditional STEM field, said that when he decided to start Circuit Lab, he had to do a lot of experimenting and online learning to get ready to tech electronics.
“Instead of trying to make the electronics simpler and turning it into toys, we… take real electronics tools, particularly Arduino boards, and make structure around this,” he said.
In fact, each class starts with 20 minutes of formal instruction. Then, children have one hour “to create” and apply what they’ve learned. For example, in a recent class, the teacher brought in a set of Arduino boards and showed children how to assemble a circuit that would blink a light when they pressed a button on an app on an Android tablet. After learning the basics, children were let free with a challenge to complete, like adding a second light.
Circuit Lab provides the materials that children use in class. Mostly, the company works with third to eighth graders, but they also organize special classes for kindergartners and first and second graders. The price for classes, which are organized in schools and recreation departments, are around $130 to $150 for a weekly after-school class.
Circuit Lab, a for-profit business with a total of seven employees (Weisberg plus six other full-time instructors), just launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for a Build-It-All Starter Kit, a kit that provides an introduction to electronics and circuitry. In two days, the campaign raised more than $3,000 out of a goal of $8,000.