Earlier this spring, four magnet schools opened their new state-of-the-art STEM SmartLabs. The lab projects give students more hands-on, real-world learning opportunities.
National studies and surveys show that engaged students increases interest and effective learning. It can also have a positive impact on attitudes toward science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
Learning by doing is the common term for Experiential Learning. It has been around since 350 BC. It is finding renewed interests in the education field. Educators are finding a huge impact when students spend more time interacting with their subject matter.
Being hands-on allows students to engage in kinesthetic learning. Kinesthetic learning is when a student carries out physical activities rather than listening to a lecture. Studies have shown that this is the most popular type of learning with students. ‘Doing’ helps them to gain a better understanding of the material. It allows students to experiment with trial and error. They learn from their mistakes, and understand the potential gaps between theory and practice.
AISD opened four state-of-the-art STEM SmartLabs at two intermediate and two middle schools — Reed Academy (Grades 5-6), Grantham Academy (Grades 7-8), Houston Academy (Grades 5-6) and Drew Academy (Grades 7-8).
Different stations comprise each lab. Each station can accommodate several students at a time. The layout design provides rich, diverse technology-based learning experiences for students. They learn science, math and engineering through applied technology. The students also build connections in math and science. Students also use language arts skills. Depending on the project, students will integrate other academic subjects along the way.
The projects develop students’ foundational technology skills. The labs also have resources organized around the core technological competencies targeted.
“The students are definitely having fun and learning at the same time,” said Hill. “The first day the lab opened, students all made disgruntled sounds. Not because they were unhappy with the class. They simply didn‘t want the lab period to end. And it has been like that ever since!”
As a facilitator, Hill acts as a guide. The students take lead in their learning and their projects. Students will call upon Hill if they need help. But she will only do so if they have tried to resolve the problem on their own or collaboratively. Yes, she encourages her students to seek help from their peers even if they are at a different station.
At each station, students have a certain number of weeks to finish the project/s. They document in Google portfolio what they learned or discovered. At the end of the time frame, they present to their peers using the 70-inch TV monitor. It is also a way for the facilitator to see if the students truly grasped a concept. The facilitator can also determine if they need more one-on-one instruction.
Hill states the environment engages students of all academic abilities. Not only does the lab enhance learning, it also increases personal success. The experience allows for engaged, focused discussions and creative team brainstorms.
“It‘s wonderful to see students excited about learning,” said Hill. “Sometimes there is a student who lacks confidence in being able to do a project. Then they actively dive into it. By the end, I see that student‘s confidence rise. Students are eager to share with their parents what they have done or created. I love to see the joy on their faces when they get a concept. I am proud when they complete a task that at first seemed daunting.”
Olivia Boatner sees the STEM Smart labs as a linchpin to students’ future. Boatner is director of magnet schools. She may have a point. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects employment in occupations related to STEM to grow to more than 9 million between 2012 and 2022. That’s an increase of about 1 million jobs over 2012 employment levels.
“The STEM SmartLabs give students the opportunity to experience new tools, programs and software,” said Boatner. “We are equipping students to meet the needs and demands of a changing workforce.”
Make plans to visit one of the campuses to see students in their STEM SmartLabs in action. See what happens when educational technology is in the hands of students.
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