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Y's 'Thingamajig' sparks kids’ creativity through STEAM skills

Thousands of students served by the YMCA of Silicon Valley showed off their engineering know-how and creativity at the annual Thingamajig Invention Convention this summer.

Thousands of students served by the YMCA of Silicon Valley showed off their engineering know-how and creativity at the annual Thingamajig Invention Convention this summer.

With hands-on challenges designed to spark curiosity, more than 6,200 young inventors created games, toys, robots, art and fashion as they developed their skills in science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM).

“Students used their time brainstorming and creating sketches of their inventions as part of the lessons we provided in the week,” said Daniel Koba, senior executive director of youth development at YMCA Silicon Valley. “They used their creativity to build visual depictions of their work before creating their visual representation.”

Thingamajig origins

Created in 1994 by Janice Williams at the YMCA of Metropolitan Washington, Thingamajig was “a way for a small group of children to demonstrate what they had learned as part of a science and technology camp,” Koba said.

More than 20 YMCAs across the country have adopted Thingamajig, with the YMCA of Silicon Valley doing so seven years ago. It started with summer learning participants in a partnership program with Gilroy Unified School District and has since expanded to include all students in YMCA Silicon Valley’s service area.

“Thingamajig is a cutting-edge event that provides youngsters with new challenges and learning experiences, complete with workshops, fitness challenges, cooking classes and more,” Koba said.

Annual event open to all youth

Held during the summer, this program is available to all kids in the area, including underserved communities — those who typically wouldn’t have access to as many STEAM activities.

“STEAM activities are embedded in all YMCA activities and daily schedules,” Koba said. “Access to high-quality lessons and instructions make the difference for youth. Expanding this program to all our summer camp sites ensured that all students, regardless of socioeconomic status, avoided barriers to participating in the program while also receiving high-quality lessons during their week of camp.”

Thingamajig participants create final projects from recycled materials, with each project limited to a cost of $20 or less — a cost YMCA pays, so it isn’t a barrier to participants, Koba said.

“One of the main missions of the Y is equity,” Koba said.

Some of the challenges that small groups were invited to collaborate on this summer included: “Beat It,” in which students developed a song or instrumental piece, using any software or platform; “Paper Made,” where students crafted an eco-friendly invention using only paper or cardboard; and “Zero Waste Trashin’ Fashion,” which had students design high fashion from items found and unfound.

“One of the popular challenges this year was to create your own board game or toy,” Koba said.

Looking forward to next year

Thingamajig has concluded this year, but many students look ahead to their next year of participation. Some even plan to keep up with their projects.

“Students that continue with us during the school year have expressed their excitement of working asynchronously with their small group to work out the kinks,” Koba said.

Staff and volunteer help

YMCA of Silicon Valley staff taught summer camp lessons with help from volunteers.

“We were lucky to receive 46 volunteers, coming from local tech companies, our advisory YMCA board members, as well as local government officials,” he said. “Volunteers helped us facilitate the event through logistics support and served as the judges for the event. This allowed our volunteers to learn about the campers’ work firsthand.”


YMCA of Silicon Valley offers a variety of programs, services and initiatives that enable kids to realize their potential, provide ways for families to have fun together, and empower people to live healthier lives.

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