“The joy that comes with the power of a moment” is what Colin Rickman, the mobile lab coordinator for St. Vrain Valley School District hopes to bring to students, teachers and families with its Future-Ready Mobile Innovation Lab.
The lab visited Longmont Estates Elementary this morning and will head to Timberline PK-8 from 1 to 3 p.m. today. The stops are just two of those planned over the next three months at all of the district’s elementary schools.
Kristen Brohm, STEM program manager at the Innovation Center, said, “my job really focuses on getting STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) into the hands of students.”
She said that while there are many opportunities for students to get hands-on experiences at the high-school level and some at the middle school, those opportunities are fewer for elementary school students, particularly during the school day. Usually, STEM programs are found in extracurricular activities and electives.
“Through the Innovation Center, we do a lot of work around field trips and other STEM activities, not just for students to come to, but also so that their teachers can come and experience those activities alongside them,” Brohm said.
This is not the first year the lab has visited students and schools.
“The mobile lab, which is the brainchild of superintendent Don Haddad, has been running and functioning throughout the district since 2019,” Rickman said, adding it covers 411 square miles and almost 60 schools and programs.
When COVID-19 hit and schools shut down, Rickman canceled 25 events and summer activities that included visits to rural school districts and pivoted to find ways to safely bring the mobile lab to students.
“A big part of this project and working with Kristen and her team was figuring out how we could take what we were doing before and making it a little bit more COVID-friendly, so we took that idea of pivoting and shifting through the pandemic, of getting creative, and we started working together and building this program, the Student Design Guild, which is what we've got now,” Rickman said.
Masks and distancing are required and they’re using a lot of hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes these days.
The Student Design Guild is based on The Teachers Guild, which is a professional community in which teachers come together to creatively solve school programs using the design thinking process. That is the same process the Design Guild uses for its events.
“The design thinking process is a human-centered problem-solving process that we use with kids. It's about finding solutions, or finding problems, or needs that are current and real and authentic, and then creating solutions for them,” Brohm said. “So students get to watch a couple of different videos explaining the process, and then they get to engage in some activities, which are explained again through video. And then they get to do some ... thinking around that. They'll be identifying some problems that they have learned about through the activities they're doing and then they get to brainstorm some possible ideas to solve those problems. And then we ask them to build a prototype … (to) build up one of those ideas.”
The mobile lab is funded by grants and through 14 partnerships with local businesses. Each grade level has a theme for its design challenge. The theme for kindergarten through second grade is transportation; for grades three through five it’s energy, media and communications.
Unique to this year’s offerings is a challenge centered on health for all K-5 students. The all-grade challenge is to create a new health office space for their schools. Students will learn about viruses and other health care issues, which are especially relevant during the pandemic. Through a partnership with UCHealth, three student prototypes will be selected, and those students’ schools will receive $500 from the St. Vrain Valley Schools Education Foundation to make the proposed updates to the health rooms.
Students at the Innovation Center also get opportunities to lead, teach and communicate through the design and the mobile lab teams.
Elizabeth Reitzig is a senior at Silver Creek High School and an intern for the STEM program. She is coordinating other students and materials for the design and mobile lab teams, ensuring materials are at the sites and helping pass them out.
“Something that I've been working on mostly is the health challenges and the health, digital content. So that's something really fun for me to do. I think it's awesome to see how, especially during this time, during a global pandemic, we can really interact with kids in different ways,” Reitzig said. “Some of the educational material that goes along with that challenge talks about pandemics and viruses in general. So, we examine things like ‘What is a virus at a biological level and where does it come from? Why is hand washing so important and what is it going to look like when we go back to school?’”
To create the video content for the health challenge, older students conducted interviews and toured the Alpine Elementary School health office, and talked to peers from the Innovation Center who toured UCHealth facilities. The elementary school students are then challenged to take that information and create a health office prototype, she said
The most important thing for Rickman, Brohm and Reitzig is the opportunity to bring people together again in a COVID-safe way. More than 200 people came to events last week at Burlington Elementary and Erie Elementary. Despite the numbers, they managed to keep their distance and had a TV rolling around with reminders to keep masks on at all times.
“For me, it's the people, we haven't seen people in so long, we are bringing people together in a really engaging way, in an authentic way, in a way that provides students with a connection to their school, a connection to others, and a school connection to their home, and provides them with lots of fun activities that are really engaging and create that critical thinking piece that we were talking about earlier,” Brohm said. “It's very empowering for students to be able to learn and relate something to their real life.”For more information on the mobile innovation lab or to bring it to your school, visit http://mobilelab.svvsd.org.