A few years ago, the Lodi School District began their search across the Midwest for their vision of what the ideal STEAM Lab would be for their students.
This year, these STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) Labs are now fully integrated in every school building and are continuing to open up new possibilities for students as Lodi invests in expanding these labs. Tyler Potter, technology integrator, said these labs are not only providing hands-on STEAM learning for students, but also helping them become more independent learners.
“A common theme in K-12 is that we really focus on three basic skills: problem solving, creativity and collaboration,” Potter said. “We’re pulling skills from all their other regular classes — reading skills, writing skills, math skills, science skills — and we’re just bringing them all together to practice these things. If we can teach kids how to think for themselves and to figure out problems, I feel like we’ve done our job.”
The Lodi School Board approved funding across the district for STEAM education in 2019 from the referendum contingency funds. The board approved almost $30,000 in funding for the middle school STEAM Lab, nearly $50,000 for the high school Fabrication Lab, around $11,400 for STEAM in the elementary school and $10,146 for STEAM education in the Lodi Primary School.
Vince Breunig, high school principal, said the Lodi School Board looks at STEAM as a part of education all students should touch while they’re in Lodi. This started when Lodi High School had their Discovery Center built at the beginning of 2018, which houses the only SMARTLab in the upper Midwest—a STEAM lab that uses the SMARTLab model curriculum provided by Creative Learning Systems, an educational consultant.
“We saw STEAM education as a need,” Breunig said. “We put the Discovery Center in and just saw not only the need for it, but the desire from kids.”
In the Lodi Primary School, Potter said teachers try to fit STEAM education into the class once every five to eight days. This can come in the form of Osmo kits, which turn iPads into tools for learning about everything from numbers and letters to money and coding. The primary school also has wooden building blocks called Keva Planks and 3D printing pens to promote engineering and creative skills.
While Lodi Elementary and Ouisconsing School of Collaboration had a STEAM Lab last year, Potter said Lodi had the funding this year to expand the facilities into various stations. These stations are divided into six different categories: robotics, computers and coding, mechanics and structures, 3D design and printing, circuitry and digital communications.
“There’s way more there that any student could accomplish in a cycle, so they go to each station for four or five times and then they’ll rotate to a new station,” Potter said. “All the stations we have there are focused on machines. That’s all focused on engineering and building things and making them work.”
The activities at these stations have students working on different tasks, such as building a simple Raspberry Pi computer, programming robots, working to design and print projects using Tinkercad, using green screens and stop motion animation along with much more.
The middle school STEAM Lab was upgraded this past summer to have a similar concept at the elementary and OSC but with more variety in activities. The lab now includes iMac computer, 3D printers, CNC (computer numeric control) carving, video and music editing equipment, drones and more.
Students have 14 different categories of activities they can choose from. In sixth grade, they get seven weeks in the STEAM Lab and two weeks in tech education. STEAM becomes an elective for seventh and eighth graders, and Potter said those classes are all full.
High school STEAM
At Lodi High School, there are three different STEAM classes a student can take. STEAM 1 is required for graduation and all students will take it when they’re in high school.
Over the course of a semester, students will get to work at 7 out of the 12 different stations on various project-based activities. Matthew Horan, math teacher and STEAM facilitator, said other teachers didn’t have enough time in the current curriculum to implement more project-based learning.
“Me as a math teacher, I’m running out of time as it is so we thought about why don’t we come up with our own STEAM course where they take knowledge and activities from other classes and do some project-based learning, and that’s what I did my first year when I taught STEAM,” Horan said.
In the Discovery Center, juniors Mitch Parks and Devin Halvorson worked to build the most efficient windmill they could by experimenting with different blade angles and materials. Nathan Schilling was also designing parts for a toy robot he planned to 3D print, after printing out a chess set he designed last year.
Using student’s background in science, shop, math, history and other classes, they work to complete different projects in the field of software, audio or video design, programming, circuitry and other stations.
In STEAM 2, Horan said has students dive deeper into projects, work to become more independent from step-by-step directions and use their own background knowledge to go further. Students will work on a project over the course of 10 days and document their progress along the way.
The class after STEAM 2 is a project development course where students focus on one project for the semester. Because it was the first year with the lab, Horan said only two students were eligible for the class last time it was offered.
“They have to find a mentor in the field in which their project is based,” he said. “Last year, both of my students wanted to design their own video game.”
Horan said his goal in these classes is to provide guidance rather than answers. Because he may not be an expert on a certain topic (such as video game design), he said he looks to have students collaborate with one another to figure out how to fix the problem by going through the engineering design process.
The other side of the high school’s STEAM education is the new Fabrication Lab, or Fab Lab. Similar to a SMARTLab, they have an industrial focus to them where students can use different digital design and manufacturing techniques to learn more about mechanical engineering.
Jamie Licht, technology education teacher, said the Fab Lab will help address the shortage of skilled trade workers as students work with laser engravers, CAD programming and different CNC machines.
“Madison College has CNC machining, we hope our students are like, ‘yeah I’d really like to do this,’” Licht said. “The goal a career readiness for Intro to Fab Lab. Then we’re hoping students who take STEAM take Intro to Fab Lab.”
Junior Ty Haas worked to make a bracket for his motorcycle in the Fab Lab and was going through the engineering design process to perfect it.
“There’s a formatting issue where it prints really small,” Haas said. “We’re trying to fix it right now.”
Licht said this will also open up students to some local opportunities as well with Alkar-RapidPak being close as well as Vollrath in Dane. Eventually, Licht said he would like to run the Fab Lab like a business where they can take orders for what they can make in the lab, such as plaques or stickers.
Breunig said he feels Lodi’s STEAM program is well ahead of other school districts in the conference but will continue to have room to grow. Technology will continue to evolve and he said upgrades are budgeted for every year.
“I just appreciate the willingness of staff to research and put together things for our kids,” Breunig said. “We had nothing five years ago. Now all of our students are getting a STEAM education.”