In the Heart of Silicon Valley, Redwood City Develops the Next Generation of Innovators
Several young engineers crouch down to the floor with an array of materials at hand for their next big collaborative project: a pizza box, tape, paper clips, a battery, an LED, a resistor, and a buzzer. Together they will construct a working simple circuit using knowhow, trial and error, and just a few items.
Next week they will gather recycled materials from home, like cardboard boxes and juice containers, and then attach a motor to create a moving robot.
Students in Redwood City School District (RCSD) are not only thinking outside the box, but taking the box apart and engineering a completely new structure with renewed purpose in school STEAM Makerspaces. STEAM, or Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics, integrates computational thinking, computer science, technology, and engineering across curriculum so that students can apply what they've learned to other subjects.
RCSD has developed a computer science and coding progression that spans across all grades, building upon what students have learned each year.
Just as the program for students has developed over the years, the students themselves adapt to new and exciting opportunities as they learn, said STEAM Teacher Jessica Kwa of Roy Cloud School.
Kindergarteners begin by programming and coding with scannable wooden blocks and their touch screen devices. By grades 1 and 2, students are ready to further develop coding skills using block-based programs to create things such as interactive stories.
As students progress, they move to using laptops and add to their programming skills by building games and websites in content areas such as mathematics and social studies. By 5th grade, students are ready to build their own robots with microcontrollers, solving challenging engineering problems. Middle schoolers begin exploring professional career choices with and pathways that integrate the tech world by choosing electives that inspire them.
“The students learn step-by-step,” she said. “They evolve to other things in programming and begin thinking about reapplying that information elsewhere or making processes faster.”
Kwa said the students begin applying their learning to other academic areas with related curriculum such as building robotic animals while studying movement and characteristics of critters in science class. Soon enough the students make connections to real-world issues and want to solve problems.
“The STEAM teacher is on call to help integrate things into the classroom and to help make tech useful in the classroom,” she said, adding that students’ teachers also join in for time in the Maker Space with their class to build their knowledge too.
Robin Porter, STEAM EdTech Teacher at Taft Community School, said the hands-on activities not only get students engaged but builds skills across the board.
“It's getting them to collaborate and work in groups,” she said. “They are using their critical thinking skills to solve problems.”
She said younger students are also learning how to use an assortment of tools such as canary cutters and glue guns as they design and build prototypes. Confidence builds in students as they try their hand at different things and explore innovative ideas.
“These working skills and team building exercises translate to so many areas in school and for later in life,” Porter said. “They are becoming more confident in expressing their ideas to a group, and working with tools.”
The STEAM Makerspace is where hands-on building takes place and engineering theories are challenged. Will a giant tower stand up to environmental factors? Can a robot go over this terrain? Students are eager to ask those questions and make discoveries.
Students are building, learning to code, and taking ideas from concept to reality—and all of this is very empowering, said Bryan Howell, STEAM Teacher at Orion Alternative. He strives to give students the tools to make their learning more visible through coding, programing, planning, designing, and engineering.
“They are learning emergent technology and demonstrating their knowledge in different ways,” he said. “They can show you the way they’re thinking and they set their own learning goals. It’s about students figuring out the problems. It’s very exciting to see them figuring things out for themselves.”
Suba Marti, District STEAM Instructional Coach and Robotics and Computer Science Teacher at Kennedy Middle School, has been excited to watch the middle school program expand to elective courses and Green career awareness opportunities–all with a focus on equality and accessibility to tech for all.
Field trips, industry guest speakers, and role models give students “exposure so they can take it to the next level,” she said.
The middle schoolers can explore how STEAM interacts with many sectors from agriculture, to clean energy, air, water, transportation, computer science and medicine. From there they choose pathways at school in robotics, design and modeling, bio technology, computer science, engineering, related advanced mathematics, and more.
“We want to provide our students with learning opportunities for the careers of tomorrow and to become global citizens with the lens of social justice and environmental sustainability for all.” Marti said. “So they can be not just consumers of tech but creators of tech. This gives them a chance to look into what gives them joy.”