by KRISTEN SENZ
A robotics laboratory and makerspace on wheels will be pulling up outside elementary schools across Monroe County starting next fall as part of the school district’s fully accessible, interdisciplinary approach to STEM education.
The STEM to Them Mobile Lab is a custom RV tricked out with onboard 3D printers, laser cutters, robotics equipment, sewing machines, dry-erase cabinet surfaces, and a collection of colorful materials that kids can use to design and create prototypes. A wheelchair lift ensures full accessibility to the mobile lab, which will visit each school twice per academic year.
First, students will learn about computer science and robotics in a unit that combines classroom learning and instruction aboard the mobile lab. During the second visit, the focus shifts to engineering and design, explains Katy Sparks, STEAM coach (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) for Monroe County Community School Corporation (MCCSC).
“We can swap out equipment mid-year and really do two different curriculum pieces with each grade level and each student,” Sparks says. “This is really unique to Bloomington and MCCSC. It fulfills a need in our community and provides an opportunity for all of our students that they might not have had otherwise.”
Awnings outside the mobile lab facilitate outdoor instruction (and social distancing), while solar panels and a shore power plug—to connect the vehicle to an AC power source— keep fuel costs down.
Students who toured the lab when it first arrived in February were “super excited,” says Debra Prenkert, MCCSC’s director of elementary education. “The kids love it,” she says. “I remember one of them saying, ‘I could live in here!’ I think they’re going to remember this experience for years to come.”
Kevin Rogers, districtwide instructional technology coordinator, first suggested the idea of a mobile STEM lab three years ago, and Boston Scientific awarded an initial $50,000 grant. The Foundation of Monroe County Community Schools raised another $375,000 for the project, with Centerpoint Energy providing $100,000. Additional support came from Catalent Biologics, Duke Energy, Harrell-Fish Inc. (HFI), Raymond Foundation, Smithville, State Farm, Bloomington Urban Enterprise Association, Old National Bank, Southern Indiana Radiological Association (SIRA), Regional Opportunities Initiative (ROI), and Monroe Owen County Medical Society.
For more information, visit mccsc.edu