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Innovation Station provides new educational opportunities

By: Addie McBee
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With the push to integrate technology into today’s education, many schools are taking different directions to keep up with new developments. One example is Russell Ranch Elementary School, which is in the beginning stages of their new Innovation Station, which will open in August with the start of the new school year.

With this lab, Principal Joanie Cunningham hopes to help students develop their skills in science, technology, engineering, arts and math, or STEAM.

“Our goal is to have a maker space for students, accessible for preschool through fifth grade, special education, general education, all access, for students to be innovative, explore, build, create in all areas of curricular knowledge-connecting science, technology, engineering, arts and math on a variety of different levels,” Cunningham said. “A place for them to go and actually function and be a part of something that’s not in their regular classroom.”

The lab will be replacing the school’s current computer lab and feature new cabinets, flooring, a wrap for the walls and a Lego wall.

“We have two 3D printers that will be stationary in there. There will be a tremendous amount of materials that teachers can come in and access depending on what their focus is,” she said. “There is going to be a focus on robotics and coding, so we have some equipment already that we can do some cool programming, and once the students program then things will function and follow. We will have some circuitry. I have purchased some kits so kids can just get in and explore and be familiar with the lab itself.”

The elementary school won a $20,000 grant last March in a contest from the State of California. Cunningham is planning to use close to $15,000 of this grant towards the reconfiguration of the room itself and use the remainder to sustain the Innovation station for years to come.

“My biggest sensitivity is sustainability. I want to make sure that this isn’t just a fad,” Cunningham said. “We knew prior to the grant that we were going to do a shoestring budget model of converting our computer lab with the same furniture and equipment that is already in there, but we were just going to make it work. With this funding, we were able to actually change the dynamic of the room itself. There are some really incredible things that are going to go into this.”

The lab will be available to all grade levels and have lessons each week that are adapted to the age and ability of the students. The lessons will correspond with the standards and curriculum of each grade level in order to establish a connection between what they are making and what they are learning in the classroom.

“We are building this with the capacity of meeting our preschool to our fifth graders and all levels of our special education students. We really want all students to have full access to it,” she said.

Russell Ranch Elementary is not the only school utilizing this new technology; many other schools are in the process of building these labs as well.

“As older schools are being renovated and new schools are being built, these are spaces that will be standard as they come into the planning stages,” Cunningham said. “It’s all about real estate; if you have a spot people are able to do it. We are using space that we have. We can be conscious of having a place for people to go, an exciting place for students to try and fail and learn while having fun.”

Cunningham said there are schools with model rooms like the one they’re building, but they wanted to do something different.

“We’ve seen a few models at the schools, and we’d like to do something different to really transform the place so when they walk in it’s a whole new environment. We want to be smart about how we are implementing this because it is a gift; this is a true gift,” she said. “Ultimately, it’s a space for kids to work together and to be innovative at all levels. That’s the caption.”