Leaning over a table, focused intently, five little scientists collaborate on assembling a new invention from assorted gears and shafts and pulleys.
“She’s very curious,” says mom Geetika Patel about her 6-year-old daughter Priyanka, one of the engrossed scientists. “She’s very interested in learning how things work and always asking a hundred questions.”
Which makes Priyanka a perfect candidate to participate in the “Simple Machines” class taking place at the Secaucus Public Library over the next eight weeks.
FIRST things first
Siddharth “Sidd” Saran created and teaches the Simple Machines class, which is privately run by Saran’s company Invntr, and not directly affiliated with the library. “The reason I started was because my son is 6 years old and I was searching for hands-on science-related activities for him,” said Saran. “I couldn’t find that many. I talked to my friends and they all desired this kind of activity so I said, why don’t I do something about it and create something so people can send their kids?”
With a physics and engineering background, Saran was well positioned to develop the class. “I started in October with the FIRST Lego League,” he said. FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is an organization created by Dean Kamen, a noted inventor of life-saving medical technology and recipient of the Global Humanitarian Action Award from the United Nations. (Although he is probably best known for inventing the Segway scooter.)
“Kamen was interested in the idea of people starting young in terms of innovation and doing things with their hands,” said Saran. Partnering with Lego, Kamen created the FIRST Lego League.
“At such a young age it really shows how you can put into action the things you learn in a classroom type of setting.” --Geetika Patel
Saran’s initial foray with FIRST was the 2013 “Nature’s Fury Challenge.” Assembling five local kids, including his son, Saran shepherded them through a project investigating volcanoes, culminating with a visit by a volcanologist from Rutgers whom the kids interviewed.
As a final project, “we simulated a mini explosion,” said Saran.
The newest class is what Saran calls pre-engineering. “It’s engineering for little kids. What I’m trying to do is create more science, engineering, robotics programs in the area. I love this group because it’s all girls,” he said of the current class. “It’s fantastic.”
Participants in the Junior FIRST Lego League class are challenged to solve real-world problems using research, analysis, and imagination, and showcase their solution by building a model using Lego components.
Proud parent Geetika Patel is certainly a fan. “I like the whole challenge idea,” he said, “that you’re part of a team and trying to create your own solution. At such a young age it really shows how you can put into action the things you learn in a classroom type of setting.”
“I just wanted her to get more social and this was a good opportunity,” said Aarti Dsouza about why she enrolled her daughter Kiera, whose sixth birthday was one day away. “Just to keep her more active and socializing and get her more interested in things like this. She was excited this morning.”
Asked if his daughter Teni was looking forward to the class, Femi Ogunjumo laughed and said, “Once Lego was mentioned.”
“Our daughter is five,” he continued, “going into the first grade in September. We just moved from Chicago a year ago, June of last year. So this is a chance for her to meet other kids her age. Maybe an opportunity to kind of get ahead of the learning curve.”
Registration for the class cost $239 to cover instruction, materials, and location.
Computer programming and more
In addition to the Simple Machines class, Saran is concurrently running a second class for kids 9 years old and above.
“That one is a computer coding class. It’s using MITs Scratch language, which has been wildly popular in teaching young kids how to do computer programming,” said Saran. “You have the benefits of science, inking, analytical thinking, but kids can use it to make their own games.”
Saran has a B.A. in physics from Middlebury College, a Bachelor of Engineering from Dartmouth, and an MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
“My passion is in science and engineering,” he explained. “My career has focused on financing technology companies--first at Credit Suisse, then a venture capital firm, and then at UBS.” Currently the CFO and board member of Product Lab, a technology company incubator, Saran describes himself as an entrepreneur.
“I have seen firsthand the tremendous potential of technology entrepreneurs to improve the lives and create opportunity for thousands, and sometimes millions, of people,” he said. “At Invntr, we are doing our small part in grooming some bright future technologists and entrepreneurs.”
“We’re starting with programs for the youngest--as our son also falls in that category--and will introduce programs for older children,” continued Saran. “We are creating the programs after carefully selecting and vetting some of the best curricula in the country.”
As for the kids, what did they learn in the class?
“I learned how to make gears,” said Anvi Garg. “Without them a car, a watch, an engine, those things can’t go.”
Art Schwartz may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.