By Alicia Wanek
We all know that careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields are growing at amazing rates, but how do schools prepare students for jobs that have yet to be created?
Prince of Peace Christian School (POPCS) in Carrollton, Texas is doing just that in their new SmartLab®. The instruction going on here, though, looks nothing like how we learned science. At the multiple stations in the room, students work on learning projects focused on circuitry, computer graphics, digital communications, and robotics, among others. Students in the lower and middle schools have the opportunity to go to the lab four days a week. Lessons are designed to build on each other over 30 days before tackling a new challenge. Rick Knotts, the SmartLab® facilitator, says, “It is amazing to watch what the kids do.”
How many of us have turned to our kids to ask them how to use our newest piece of technology? They seem wired for it, and we…well, sometimes it scares us. At the recent grand opening, kids were observed to be working hands-on with multiple grade-level tasks. These kids aren’t afraid to dive right in to experimenting with their Ozobot, trying out circuits, or taking measurements with light sensors. It’s refreshing to see kids doing more with technology than just staring at a screen. The students are engaged, interacting, focused, and most importantly, excited while they’re learning.
What is striking in speaking to the students and Mr. Knotts, is how much of a focus there is on allowing the kids to figure things out on their own. They are encouraged to try new solutions without any fear of failure. “We can learn so much through failure,” Mr. Knotts believes. He tries to ask questions to help direct the kids to try new solutions and to see how to learn from what didn’t work before. “I put the onus on the kids to say when they’ve figured it out and show me.” Says one student named Colton, “You get better and better at it.” In an age where there is so much pressure to succeed, it is a welcome change.
POPCS Headmaster Chris Hahn says, “I believe we best prepare our children for the future by equipping them to access, analyze, and apply accurate information today.” Those are all skills that are being “taught” in the lab through a very innovative approach. In this classroom where kids are learning skills to prepare for those jobs of tomorrow, in an environment of collaboration where they are rewarded for effort, these students’ futures are very bright indeed.