Looking around Eureka! Palouse, you might have a hard time placing yourself.One corner looks like a backyard shop with tools, heavy duty work tables and a stash of appliances and building materials. Another area seems to be a playroom filled with games, toys and Legos. A far corner is piled with wires, screens and electronic devices. Other parts look like a science lab, a conference room or a school.
Branded as a tinkering and tutoring center, the second story of the Frontiers Communication building in Moscow is a big playroom of sorts. Eureka! Palouse is a place for community members of all ages to come and exercise their curiosity, learn new skills, ask questions, share their expertise and make new things.
The space was quiet on a recent afternoon of STEM camp for kids ages 6 to 13. After seven hours of noise and learning, the kids were enjoying quiet free play in a back room filled with Legos. At one point a child walked out and approached Tim Ewers, who volunteers with program development at Eureka! Palouse and works for the University of Idaho Extension.
“It went away,” the child stated.
The child had accidentally closed out a browser window that held instructions for the Lego crane he was building. Ewers helped him pull the instructions back up and the child went back to work as a friend pulled up a chair beside him.
At the beginning of free play, the child had asked to build a crane with Legos. There wasn’t a crane set or instruction booklet to choose from — he just knew it could be done and needed some help getting started.
And that’s what Eureka! Palouse does, it offers a leg up in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math. Staff helped the child find instructions online so he could build a crane — just as they are available to community members who want to create, use tools, learn technologies, solve problems and figure things out.
It’s hard to describe Eureka! Palouse partly because it’s a new type of venue. Historically, STEM pursuits have been indulged privately by those with means and a dedicated interest. Eureka! Palouse is about broadening access.
Ewers compared the space to a basketball court in a park, a community space where people can enjoy and develop basketball skills. Some simply shoot hoops on their own, others might form a league or play competitively. Eureka! Palouse is the same thing in a STEM context. Some refine their drone-flying skills, while others are delving into computer languages with a friend or creating new tools.
People can access these resources during leader-directed STEM camps, classes and clubs. Self-directed exploration is available Tuesday through Friday afternoons in the Tinkering Studio or in Kaitlyn’s Room, which is designed for ages 7 and under. Math tutoring is also available on site.
But as a community entity, Eureka! Palouse is not just about what’s happening in their space. They partner with other groups and entities, such as the library, Boy Scouts, 4-H programs, higher education and more to provide STEM activities and learning opportunities.
“We are about using resources we have, using the partners we have, to promote STEM awareness,” Ewers said.
There’s a relational component to Eureka! Palouse as well, whether that’s teacher to student, adult to child or peer-to-peer interaction, the space provides a social dynamic not available in an online setting.
“You not only get to share your expertise,” Ewers said, “but you get to share your passion.”
As those who are learning rub shoulders with those with experience, ideas and skills become exciting and accessible. Peer interactions provide the essential component of having someone challenge the way you see things.
“That’s when synergy starts happening and things get really fun,” Ewers said.
Eureka! Palouse held their first STEM camps last summer after securing the rental space from Frontiers Communication, an organization sponsor. The Tinkering Studio had a soft opening then as well. With a long list of plans for the coming months, the organization is both established and in process, as they continue to develop partnerships, add programs and build resources, both material and human.
“This is going to evolve; what we need is more people engaged in this process” Ewers said. He added that as a non-profit organization, Eureka! Palouse is volunteer driven — there’s only one paid staff person.
In many ways, Eureka! Palouse is modeling what it is to build and innovate as they develop a new community resource with a STEM focus.
IF YOU GO:
More information and registration at: www.eurekapalouse.org
Spring Break Camp – March 12-16 (Moscow) and April 2-6 (Pullman)
Summer Camps – Stand-alone sessions June 11-15, 18-22, 25-29, July 9-13, 16-20, 23-27, July 30-Aug. 3, Aug. 6-10, 13-17 and 20-24. Available for ages 6 to 11 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. five days a week during school vacations, $200 per student with a discount for multiple weeks at sign-up.
Tinkering Studio (ages 8 and up) or Kaitlyn’s Room (ages 3 to 7, accompanied by an adult 16 years or older), 10 visit passes from $50 to $75, 3 to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays,
2:30 to 5:30 p.m. Fridays
Math tutoring, classes and clubs:
Pre-K through calculus, group and individual opportunities ranging from $15 to $225
Varied classes and clubs, $75 – $125