BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Students at Richardson Elementary School have a new room to explore almost endless applications of computer science.
The new STEAMhound Station just off the media center at the elementary is home to a $15,000 lab that Principal Adrian McKay says isn’t another step toward computer literacy, but a giant step towards its applications.
“We’re supposed to be moving away from this idea that, ‘Hey, I’m tech literate. I know how to use a laptop. I can trouble shoot a little bit’, to a focus on ‘I have a large problem and I can develop new tech to support humanity’,” he said.
He said the idea is to create deep knowledge, critical thinking students that are gonna focus on what it is that tech can do to help, as opposed to consuming tech.
Richardson Elementary’s Parent-Teacher Organization was approached by McKay to sponsor the lab. The effort was born out of a 2019 grant awarded to the district on behalf of the school. Some of those funds were used to buy equipment for the lab. The rest of the station was built with funds from the P.T.O.
Kim Harmon, director of student services for the district, said the goal was to ignite interest in computer science at the earliest stages possible.
She said building a computer sciences elementary team and developing an implementation plan for getting computer sciences into the classroom was the first step. The school administration re-imagining a learning space to promote the creative problem solving skills foundational in the field of computer science, was next.
She said by re-purposing space at Richardson, the school has created a colorful, flexible, inviting area to spark the excitement for learning for all the students.
STEAM stands for Science Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math.
Brandi Koering, president of the P.T.O said McKay approached them about sponsoring the classroom about six months ago.
Koering said the group quickly picked up on the idea and even in the midst of a pandemic and financially tough times, the group streamlined some projects and found $15,000 to create the classroom.
“We had been very fiscally responsible and we’d had some really great fundraisers leading up to that point,” she said.
“We made some tough decisions and scaled back some of our field trip funding. How do you get a $50,000 grant and then not have somewhere to go with it. How could we say, ‘No’.”
Mckay said the lab is a launching point for work in computer science in an elementary setting to computer science for all K-12 students in the district.
The station is equipped with a SMART TV, a green screen video area, a 3-D printer, and five work stations with individual desks that form different pods throughout. The shelves are full of puzzle pieces, blocks, art supplies and other necessities for the different projects.
On two sides of the rooms there are stations with tablets on them where videos can be played with projects associated with Osmo™ learning programs. That system uses the tablets to scan the students work areas where they are doing coding, spelling, drawing and more. There is also is a Busy Bee station where initial programming problem solving exercises take place and other computer art stations.
The lab is an extension of a STEM lab, but includes the art.
“Our goal is to embrace the gifts of every child and I think we would have to include the arts as a big part of that,” Harmon said.