Imagine that the local power provider needs to refuel at the nuclear power plant. Unfortunately, the robotic arm used to replace the fuel cells has malfunctioned, and the engineers need to develop a safe alternative.
This is one of many scenarios that students at Orchard Public Schools are working through with the Nebraska Public Power District STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Connection Lab.
According to NPPD, the lab “is a model for how you (teachers) can implement open-sourced learning and the Maker’s mentality into your classroom.”
Orchard has nine of the 11 stations offered by NPPD — MakeyMakey+Rasberry PI Lab, Electronics Lab, Afinia H800 3D Printer, Carvey 3D CNC Machine, Engineering Workshop, Sensor Station, Smart Home Internet of Things, Wearables Lab (virtual reality) and Creativity Lab.
The labs are divided into four categories, including Make it DO, where the students have to take existing equipment and make it do something, Make it NEW in which students implement their ideas to make a new product, Make An IMPACT, in which students use data to make an impact in the community and Make it YOU in which students have the opportunity to be creative.
Tami Kuhfal, 5th grade teacher at Orchard Public Schools, was responsible for bringing the NPPD STEM lab to the school. The lab arrived at the school last week and will remain there until the end of this week.
The lab is geared toward sixth through twelfth grades, but Kuhfal explained that Orchard has trustworthy fifth graders, so they’re letting the fifth graders use the lab.
“I did have some younger students who are in our coding club that is on Mondays participate a little bit, but it’s definitely geared toward sixth grade through twelfth grade,” Kuhfal said.
Each station comes in its own box to make for simple set-up.
“It’s kind of neat because they come in boxes.” Bob Evans, Orchard’s Industrial Technology teacher, explained. “They close them all up, and everything fits in the little box like that, and you open them up and voila, presto-chango, it’s all in there.”
Kuhfal first heard about the lab through Jennifer Swarzik, who did a Spheros lab with her students last year. Chad Johnson, the head of the lab, sent out a form to all the teachers in NPPD’s service area, so Kuhfal signed Orchard up to have the lab.
“I think they’re (NPPD) trying to bring their product into the schools and hopefully educate our students on safety of power, as well as hopefully gaining employees one day,” Kuhfal said.
She also spoke about the skills that students are going to need in the future, like problem-solving.
“When (NPPD) set the lab up, they said that ‘Here, the adults can’t help you,’ is basically what we’re supposed to tell the kids. ‘Figure it out.’ ” Kuhfal said.
The adults were only given a simple orientation on the lab with very minimal training to encourage the students to learn and problem-solve on their own.
“Problem-solving, that’s a skill that we’re really trying to encourage. It’s kind of a lost art, and we need to bring it back to our kids,” she said.
Some of the students have had to problem-solve through issues with some of the machines, like the 3D printer and the Carvey 3D CNC Machine, which is basically a computer-run router.
Each lab contains a journal that the schools can add to when they have problems and document how they solved that problem.
“It’s a matter of using what’s down there and finding the answer,” Kuhfal said.
Evans uses the lab so his students “can learn how to problem-solve and to think critically about ideas and concepts.”
“They pick something, they can explore everything, they don’t have to do it all, they can do what’s of interest to them,” Evans said. “Every period that I can find practical application for it and problem-solving, we’re down here doing stuff, working with things.”
Kuhfal uses the lab during her students’ STEM time in the afternoons.
“We’re rotating them (the fifth and sixth graders) in groups of 10, so 10 kids are working on projects up on the main floor...then I’m taking a group of 10 down there everyday to rotate,” Kuhfal explained.
Kuhfal said her students aren’t getting graded on their time in the lab. “We’re just trying to get them the exposure.”
Both Kuhfal and Evans said that the students’ favorite station is the Wearables Lab, which is virtual reality.
“You can go into the virtual world and go to your home, they can climb skyscrapers, they can fly in helicopters, they can do all the things,” Evans said. “But mostly, the premise is that they’re supposed to go out and take 3D video, bring it back, and then solve a problem in their community with the help of virtual reality.”
They Carvey 3D CNC Machine is also a favorite among the students. Kuhfal said students have used the machine to carve initials, names and insignias in both wood and acrylic slabs.
Students are even repurposing materials from elsewhere in the school to create projects at the Carvey station, including a large acrylic slab that custodian Tony Tabbert replaced in the kitchen.
Kuhfal said that the students are really having to use math with the Carvey station, like measuring, figuring dimensions and converting fractions into decimals.
However, living in the virtual world and using the Carvey are not the only things the students are excited about. Evans also explained that one of the students is making his own game controller.
“He’s just making a simple joystick kind of thing with the MakeyMakey(+Rasberry PI Lab) so he can have a controller that was built by himself,” Evans said. “And then they get to see all the technology that goes into the controllers and try to make their own, how simple yours is.”
“The Rasberry PI is a great little $35 computer, and so they were trying to take that, along with the MakeyMakey which was developed by students from MIT, and basic simple circuitry, opening and closing circuits, and then coding that into the game controller,” Kuhfal expanded. “They’re learning just so many different aspects of programming, coding and mathematics.”
Along with problem-solving and math skills, Kuhfal said the kids are learning to interact with each other.
“It’s neat to see the kids interacting with each other,” she said. “‘Oh, you need to do this, you need to do that.’”
Kuhfal said that the students were even trying to get one of the other teachers to climb underneath a table in one of the virtual reality worlds.
One of the biggest challenges that Kuhfal said students are facing is patience. “They want instant gratification,” she said.
“We have to rotate,” she explained. “Patience, problem-solving, it’s okay if things don’t go right the first time.”
Kuhfal also explained that the lab has given confidence to those students who may struggle in the classroom.
“Students that are not good at math, students that aren’t good at reading, are really great with the hands-on,” she said. “And so that’s really elevated them, I think, in the eyes of some of the other students because it comes easy in the classroom for some of them, but they don’t have patience.”
“Kids who are in the resource room for the majority of their academics are proficient and excelling down there,” she continued. “And I think that they’re seeing that they can do things, and I’m really praising them. ‘Okay, you have to go seek out that student because they know how to operate this a whole lot better than Mrs. Kuhfal knows.’”
Members of Orchard Public Schools are being asked to wear purple tomorrow, November 14, to show support for Mr. Schutt and for Pancreatic Cancer Awareness.
Jim Schutt, Social Studies teacher and Athletic Director at Orchard Public School, has been living with pancreatic cancer for over 7 years.
Joining OPS in wearing purple tomorrow is just another way of showing those who have been affected by pancreatic cancer just how supportive the community is.
Orchard Public School held its Veterans Day Program on Monday, November 12.
The American Legion Post 136 presented the colors and explained the importance of flag etiquette and respect. Holly Schacht also spoke about her experience at Girls State.
Musical numbers were performed by the OPS Jr. High/High School Band and Choir and the OPS 2nd graders. Tommie Peed played "Taps".
Orchard announced its honor roll for the first quarter of the 2018-19 school year.
This quarter's principal's honor roll includes (front, left to right) Aubrey Jackson, Ashley Melcher, Avery Cheatum, Kaci Wickersham, Taelyn Switzer, (2nd) Blake Hoke, Erin Schwager, Madison Melcher, Hadley Cheatum, (3rd) Mason Hoke, Levi Cronk, Gunnar Shabram, (back) Ryan Wilhelm, Gage Clifton and Chance Boelter.
This quarter's honor roll includes (front, left to right) Amor Zermeno, Nalleli Zermeno, Julian Tuttle, Holly Schacht, Savanna Ferris, (middle) David Arroyo, Andrew Pearson, Jaccob Bennett, Trevor Thomson, (back) Anthony Marino, Ira Lampert and Gage Switzer.
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