Two years ago 14-year-old Dylan Peil cooked a hot dog at his high school science fair using a satellite dish he turned into a solar powered turbine.
That kind of project is just another Wednesday at the Nelson Tech Club.
About 15-to-30 young people meet at the Nelson Youth Centre once a week and decide exactly what they want to work on. It’s a direct challenge to the traditional educational model and according to tech club parents, it’s having a profound effect on their children. The learning is completely self-directed.
“They started learning a bit of code and now they’re applying it to their learning in school,” says Karen Pentecost, mother of Samuel and Tiago, who are enrolled in the tech club. “They’re already a step ahead of the other kids, and I think there’s a big chance they’ll be into technology or computers or engineering.”
And that’s what the tech club is all about: giving kids the confidence and freedom to explore their creativity, and enabling them by providing them with access to the tools they need to do it — about a half million dollars worth of tools.
Brad Pommen, who has run the club since he started it in 2011, says it’s one of the largest open hacking spaces per-capita in North America.
Pommen helped start the tech club when he first moved to Nelson, and has since solicited grants and funding to purchase computers, laser cutters, 3D printers, circuitry, design tools and robot parts.
In that time the club has grown from 15 to 450 members.
They’ve only been housed at the Youth Centre since July, but it’s a space that Pommen says has transformed the program.
“A lot of the youth are the mentors who started out as the newbies in the room,” says Pommen. “Now that we’ve moved from Selkirk College the kids can ride their skateboards, or play music, and we can pair technology with all that. We’ve found that the kids interact with one another better here because of that.”
The 450 children in the program range in age from six to 18, and Pommen says some of them have gone on to find full-time jobs in engineering, programming and design, and gone to college with more knowledge of coding, digital media, 3D design, and robotics than their professors.
He says these results are generated by a student-centric learning model that forces students out of their comfort zones and breeds creativity.
But it’s not just generating results at tech club. It’s transforming the learning in school of students like Liam Lytle.
“It’s given him the confidence to say now I can do this. I can make this,” says Lytle’s mother Nichola as he poses for a 3D rendering of himself that will later be printed. “Liam is telling me he thinks he can build a house. He’s eight years old.”
The Nelson Tech Club is currently in the process of recruiting more girls, who make up about 15 per cent of its members. Stop by the Nelson Youth Centre every Wednesday night between 6 and 8 p.m. to get involved.