Get to know NW Saturday Academy, a cool non-profit that teaches STEM to DC students

Students participating at the NW Saturday Academy (photo courtesy of NW Saturday Academy)

A few weeks ago I put out a call for organizations to consider sponsoring Petworth News. I'm happy that many responded and decided to sponsor (shout out to Lighthouse Yoga, who is going on their second year of sponsoring the blog).

The NW Saturday Academy recently became a sponsor, which I'm thrilled to support, as they focus on STEM education -- and robotics and Legos! A total geek match for me.

I met Christopher Alexander, the founder of the NW Saturday Academy, last November at the meeting of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 4D, when he spoke about the program. NW Saturday Academy is a math, computer science and robotics program for DC youth (primarily third, fourth and fifth graders). Their Saturday classes introduce elementary school students to Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) topics in a fun and challenging environment that encourages them to use their creativity and explore. Students come from different schools within Ward 4 and throughout the city.

Founder Christopher Alexander at ANC 4D in November 2015

The Academy has two semesters during the academic school year. In the fall, they sponsor several FIRST® LEGO® League (FLL) teams to compete in the popular global robotics competition. In the challenge, teams identify and solve a real-world problem. They also build, test, and program an autonomous robot using LEGO® MINDSTORMS® technology to solve a set of missions in the Robot Game. (I would have loved this as a kid... and to be honest, I'd love to do it now!)

In the spring, students learn the fundamentals of computational thinking by learning Scratch programming using mobile Raspberry Pi devices. They also participate in "Mathematical Circles" (groups) where they engage in a question-driven curriculum that emphasizes creative problem solving and stimulates logical thinking, analytical abilities and mathematical reasoning.

Here is a typical question: Three consecutive numbers add up to 165. What are these numbers?*

Students work together to solve problems like this, and also learn how to explain their solutions in a clear and logical way, stating assumptions and conclusions, and presenting all the steps.

Learning in the classroom...

"Our program is expanding and, with the support of the new Roosevelt High School and MacFarland Middle School principals Ms. James and Mr. Sanders, we will be hosting our Saturday program at MacFarland MS this coming academic year," Christopher told me.

The NW Saturday Academy's stated mission is "to build a network of children and families to support the establishment of vibrant and academically rigorous middle school options in the city. We work with the Ward 4 Education Council and the MacFarland Middle School Community Cabinet to encourage the creation of educational programming that promotes 21st Century skills for our children. Our goals are to introduce as many children as possible to STEM and to create a cohort of students who are ready to tackle Algebra and other challenging subjects by the time they enter seventh grade."

If you have a third, fourth or fifth grade student who might be interested in participating in the NW Saturday Academy program, check out their website to learn more and register.

... and learning via competitions.

As a non-profit, they're also happy accept donations and sponsorships to help them fulfill their mission. For example, if you are a college student or professional with a background in any STEM field, they're always looking for volunteer assistant coaches to help guide robotics teams through their discovery process. 

*By the way, the answer to the question is 54, 55 and 56.  :)

Drew Schneider

Local DC blogger in Petworth, Washington DC.



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