Well the day finally came. The day that one of my children attended MIT's Splash event. I've been hearing of this, and promoting it to others, for years. Now it was my twelve year old's turn.
For one weekend in November, MIT hosts Splash, holding classes for students in grades 7-12 all day Saturday and Sunday. The Saturday night classes are just for those in grades 9-12. This year the fee for both days was $30 and just $5 per meal for lunch and dinner (if you want to buy it). This is open to all students (living anywhere), this is not a homeschooling event although homeschoolers definately attend!
Our family was impressed with the MIT Splash event and we are grateful that this opportunity exists!
The rules were clear that this event is for students who are able to be independent and find their own way to the classes. Parents are to drop the kids off and let them navigate their way around for the day. Parents are not allowed to sit in on classes under normal circumstances. Special lectures for parents to attend about gifted children and college admissions were held on Saturday. There was a lounge the parent's could hang out in if they so desired. (With all there is to do in Cambridge and Boston I cannot imagine spending all my time in a lounge though.)
This year over 2400 students attended, a record high according to the email we received. Registration is done online and requires a high patience level if trying to register at opening time (in an attempt to get into the classes the student chose). It took us three and a half hours to get on the site and complete the registration! Over 700 classes were offered, just to give you an idea of how many choices there are! Classes have grade limitations (gr 10-12 for example) and some have prerequisites such as "completed Algebra I". Classes are in many topics ranging from of course, math and science, to politics, history, foreign language and many fun classes such as the history of video gaming, card game playing, improv acting, and some hands on classes such as balloon animal sculpting and baking.
The event is run by volunteers. The teachers are college students and college professors. There are a lot of fun classes and many academically focused as well. The classes run about 50 minutes in length. My son in grade 7 was able to take eight classes on Saturday and nine on Sunday. High schoolers can take additional classes on Saturday night! Yes, this is a bit like a marathon!
I'd been told for years that the kids have to be able to find their way to the different buildings to take classes. What no one told me was that all the classes are held in buildings that are connected by indoor hallways. There are no big treks across campus, outdoors, or walking on city sidewalks to find one's way around. That makes attending the event all that much easier. The hardest thing is finding the staircase within a building and paying attention to which hall to walk down to get to the next building.
This event gives students a peek at what college life is like. This may be many of their first experiences navigating a schedule to get around a college campus on their own. This bit of independence is fantastic for middle school kids and lets them see they can make it on their own in a new environment surrounded by a sea of strangers. Having confident and charismatic college students as teachers gave my son the impression that college aged kids are likable, capable young people.
Just being in the halls of a college and being at an institution where learning is taken seriously and is respected is in and of itself a reason to attend. My son was reading the postings on the walls and noticing the display cases of student's 3D models, telling us about them and bringing us to see some of them. We heard from our son about different clubs and events happening on campus just based on signs he read while walking down the halls to get to his next class.
In walking to and from the campus we saw other buildings and display cases. We saw impressive multi-media displays through clear glass walls of information such as genome research and toured an exhibit of scale models of ships. From the sidewalk we saw students working together into the night solving math problems on huge blackboards and another gathering where students were listening to another student give a lecture.
A general impression my husband and I got was that what was being taught and learned at MIT has real world relevance and is being applied in real life as well as the fact that learning is worthwhile! This is a breath of fresh air compared to the seemingly constant notion of 'school sucks' and 'learning is boring' which my kids hear from their schooled friends and acquaintences in elementary, middle, and high school (both public and private).
MIT holds other classes at other times of the year. In March there is a one day, Saturday event just like this called Spark. In the spring there will be a series of classes held over a series of weekend classes, these I believe will be academically focused and will go deeper to teach each topic. They hold week long sessions of classes in the summer called Junction. ESP also holds longer weekend courses that run from September-May.
See the ESP site for details about all the different programs they offer to students in the community.
A tidbit of good news is this Splash event is going to be run by other colleges across the country, modeled after this MIT Splash event. Events are planned for New York City, Chicago, North Carolina, and California.
A Few Tips
Register early to get the classes you want.
Order the group photo, t-shirt and meals ahead of time online if possible, if you want them.
Bring a couple of snacks and some water. This is most appreciated if the purchased lunch is not up to your standards or if the kid is a picky eater.
Consider bringing your own sandwich or lunch foods if you don't want to take a chance on the $5 meal.
Arrive early to registration. Accept that it is a bit nutsy. Just imagine 2400 students and some parents standing in queue to get their schedules...
The student should have a cell phone for communication about meeting for pick-up.
Choose your hotel wisely. We aimed for a hotel within walking distance to avoid dealing with finding parking for our car.
If your child attends MIT's Splash next year maybe I'll see you there!