STEAM Room Provides Connectivity and Opportunity

Originally published in the Fergus Falls Daily Journal – December 20, 2017

Ashton Davis and Audrey Schultz are coders, programmers and designers. They’re also 10th graders. Schultz has designed a website using HTML coding, Davis has created Nerf gun attachments using CAD software. Both are excelling in the building blocks of careers that could be available to them in the future, and they’re doing it through something called STEAM Room.

This optional iQ Minnesota (iQMN) online course is in its third year has captured the attention of students in kindergarten-12th grade, with 15-20 students joining in weekly for an hour to learn something new.

“The thing that we like about STEAM Room is it’s an opportunity for us to put activities and opportunities in front of kids who maybe wouldn’t get them otherwise,” Jesse Thorstad, IT coordinator at iQMN, said.

Every three-four weeks, the topics of class discussion get switched up to encourage a broad range of learning.

“It gives them a chance to discover what they really like and what they’re good at,” Ciara Rose, an iQ Academy teacher and STEAM Room instructor, said. “ It’s really a platform for kids to be creative without a lot of pressure or too much restriction and it’s exciting for them to have that creative space.”

Because so many topics are covered over the weeks, some students are naturally more drawn to some areas of study than others and they are given the freedom to explore that further.

For example, Davis’ 3-D printing is something that he’s taken the initiative to do outside of class. Using Tinkercad, a free design program, Davis was able to design different attachments for his Nerf guns and have Thorstad print them on the 3-D machine to be mailed to him.

“3-D printing has opened up a new gateway to what you can do and what you have available,” Davis said. “You can create the stuff you need at the time instead of having to find it and order it and wait for it.”

Davis started in  STEAM Room when he was an eighth-grader, and once he started he found he really enjoyed it. Through his work in STEAM Room, Davis has been able to take the skills he’s learned and apply them to other classes like digital art, which he is taking for the full year.

Schultz started with the STEAM Room because she thought it looked fun and she wanted to see what it was like.

“When I came, I got really into it because even with all the school I could take the break and just enjoy doing a little STEAM Room as, like, a fun class and something to keep me going through school knowing that when I was done I could work on it,” Schultz said.

The thing that stuck out for Schultz was coding, but she wanted to do it in a different way.

“I didn’t want to do what everybody was doing, so then I decided to do my own thing on books because books are my favorite thing,” Schultz said.

She ended up using HTML coding to create her website about books. It includes all of her favorites, with reviews and descriptions of each that are able to be accessed by clicking on book covers.

Schultz also hand-coded a game that she’s shared with her classmates with 20 different boards, which each took about an hour to create.

In the class, there’s no grading, so any extra work done by the students is completely on their own initiative. If they want, they can just go to the hour session and leave it at that, but many students are inspired to create after the lessons.

Sharing what they’ve learned and designed with the other students has been a highlight of STEAM Room.

“One thing with STEAM Room I really enjoy is being able to talk to the other kids and help them along. So people who have done it before get the chance to be the teacher,” Davis said.

The students and the teacher in the class are a tightknit group, despite the fact that their interactions are online. In this classroom setting, it’s easier for them to interact.

“Working online, you can kind of feel like you’re on an island, so it’s a way to build connections. STEAM Room is a nice break from the norm, it’s a place to interact with other people while building cool stuff,” Rose said.

Another aspect of iQMN is the impact on the parents.

“Everything I’ve taught, I know there’s at least three to four parents sitting beside a child listening and observing and there’s amazing transparency in our classrooms because the parents are invited and encouraged to come and participate,” Thorstad said. “We’ve heard from moms and dads ‘we’ve learned so much in the STEAM room.’”

The program has become an invaluable resource to the students, parents and teachers. The effect it will have on the futures of the students involved will be seen for years to come.

“It’s better to understand how technology will work in the future and how we can help progress it,” Davis said.

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