Tronix Team, a program of Park Avenue Youth and Family Services (PAYFS), was launched in 1997 by retired Electrical Engineer Steven Birth. Birth earned his Electrical Engineering degree from Georgia Institute of Technology and later co-founded Authorware, Inc., a technology start-up company that became Macromedia. In 1995, Steve retired at age 38 and began working with youth. Originally called Inventor’s Corner, Birth created Tronix Team with a focus on physical science and electricity. In its first decade, a small group of students from nearby schools would participate in weekly classes at PAYFS, building four projects in a school year and going on field trips. It was an intense educational experience with only a small reach into the community. In the summer of 2005, an advisory board was formed to guide the program’s expansion, allowing it to serve more children. Soon after, Birth created a new project that has had a lasting impact on Tronix Team and its ability to inspire and engage youth in STEM education. The “Lunchbox Boombox”, our most popular project, is a hands-on, take-home project that consists of a plastic lunchbox, an MP3 player, a large speaker and circuit board made from scratch with a volume control and an amplifier that has been built by thousands of kids across the Twin Cities. Now, Tronix Team partners with schools, community centers and libraries and has expanded its programming to reach more than 500 children and youth each year, inspiring the next generation of scientists and engineers.
Tronix Team founder Steve Birth was inspired to create this program as a result of his experiences as an early inventor. Steve’s first project, the crystal radio, got him so interested in science that he just never stopped. Steve went on to become a successful electrical and software engineer and his dream is to share that excitement with new generations of young scientists.
Tronix Team believes strongly that hands-on projects are the most effective way to get students engaged in science learning and to develop the curiosity that leads to advanced understanding and achievement. There is plenty of research to support Tronix Team’s findings that hands-on, experienced based learning works! Students learn in many different ways: auditory, visual, tactile, kinesthetic, and social. Hands-on projects engage not only the tactile and kinesthetic learners who need movement to learn best, but also students who are auditory learners as they talk about what they’re doing, and visual learners who have the opportunity to see what other students are creating. Social learners benefit from time spent in small groups talking about the project.
Children are natural explorers and observers and hands-on learning capitalizes on intrinsic abilities. It is especially effective in science and math classrooms because it requires students to think like scientists. Students engaging in hands-on learning not only perform better but have higher achievement gains in creativity, perception, and confidence. Students involved in a hands-on project in numerous studies learned more and demonstrated a deeper understanding of the issues than traditional groups. These significant findings prove that, particularly with students traditionally underrepresented in science and engineering, the book and lecture format of teaching may not be the best way to engage students in learning. Tronix Team relies on hands-on, high quality, exciting projects to continue to engage students year after year in STEM.