Ridgeway Elementary School now has a state-of-the-art STEAM Lab, thanks to a $15,000 grant from the Manchester Township Educational Foundation. STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math and the lab is outfitted with tools and equipment that will allow students to fully explore these subjects. At a recent open house event to introduce the lab to the public, students and visitors tested out robots, learning software, building blocks, electronics kits, and more.
The lab is located in what was previously the school's computer lab, which had been underutilized since the school purchased classroom Chromebooks several years ago. Gone are the static rows of desktop computer stations, replaced by innovative workstations and equipment that enables students to get creative and demonstrate the scientific method through teamwork, problem solving and abstract thinking.
Clearly the most popular items at the open house were the robots and the 3D Doodler station. Students used computer tablets to control several different robots, making them move around the room, play music on a xylophone, and dance. A cute bright blue plastic robot named 'Dash' consists of three rolling spheres on the base and another sphere on top that represents its head, with a single large eye that lights up. It comes with several attachments, including the xylophone. The 3D Doodler pen looks similar to a hot glue gun. It dispenses colorful plastic that dries instantly and can be used to create 3D objects.
Also popular were the electronics kits. Squishy Circuits uses wires connected through clay to complete circuits to power a fan, a whistle, a light and more. Makey-Makey uses objects such as a banana or even your body to conduct electricity and make connections that trigger actions on a computer program, for instance playing music.
Other stations include Lego Mindstorm, a 3-D printer, puppet theater, blocks and blueprints, spiral art, pipe builders, and Makedo connectors for building with cardboard.
The grant proposal stated that the lab would help the school meet changing New Jersey Student Learning Standards and Next Generation Science Standards that call for a more hands-on approach for authentic (real world) learning and an emphasis on college and career readiness.
Velazquez and Bachonski said that teachers are eager to try out the lab and to learn about ways they can use it with their students. The students, of course, are even more excited to begin regular visits to the lab.
Ridgeway Principal, Nikki Mazur, said she feels like it is a very exciting time at Ridgeway this year, with many new programs like the STEAM lab. "On behalf of our entire school community, I would like to thank the Manchester Township Educational Foundation for funding this extraordinary learning space for our students."
Ridgeway Technology Teacher, Jamie Velazquez, and Media Specialist, Raquel Bachonski, wrote the grant proposal with teacher Crystal Policastro. They proposed a lab space that uses a multi-sensory approach to reach all learners and inspire even the most apprehensive students to grow and learn through exploration. "The environment is designed to foster innovation and creativity," said Velazquez. "Our STEAM Lab is a space where our students can become risk-takers, scientists, and critical thinkers while solving real world problems."