One of the casualties of the pandemic was the Bud Biggs STEM Lab, which was forced to go into a hiatus when schools in Lucerne Valley (and elsewhere) were closed in the spring of 2020. Although the school was one of the first public schools in California to reopen to a hybrid schedule later that summer, the Lab’s doors remained closed.
Until students went back to school this school year.
Today is a new day, and the district’s pride and joy — thanks to a generous donation by the Mitsubishi Cement Corporation Educational Foundation — is back on line. Newly hired teacher Felecia Figueroa, a former U.S. Air Force veteran, is taking LVES students of all ages through their Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (STEM) journey.
In early October, Ms. Figueroa welcomed Mrs. Hankins’ 6th grade class to the Lab for the first time this school year. The STEM lab is one of enrichment classes that students attend on a weekly basis. Starting off with a short lesson on logging into their work stations, the teacher then went over expectations and safety protocols. Then the students were off and running.
Soon students would start designing their 3D Printer Challenge projects (using metric rather than imperial measurements). Using the design program TinkerCAD, the smaller sibling of the commercial drafting program AutoCAD, they began developing their original designs.
“When you make your shapes I want you to be kind of an explorer,” Mrs. Figueroa said. “Don’t be intimidated if you think, ‘I can’t do this.’ Yes you can. It’s not that hard.”
Transitional kindergarten (TK), 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 6th grade classes visit the lab once a week for 45 minutes. Fifth grade does not visit the lab because they have art and music rotated in their weekly enrichment schedule.
Called a “Smart Lab” by the vendor Creative Learning Systems, the LVES facility provides an action-driven process where students explore technology by planning a project and identifying the steps needed to reach their goal. Lessons are personalized with collaboration an integral part of the process.
As Mrs. Figueroa explains, TK-Kinder level students are completing hands on projects that relate to mechanics and structures (simple machines, engineering/design process). They work in teams to explore and reflect on what went well and what to improve for next time. First and second-grade level students are beginning desktop computer skills (keyboarding, mouse skills) along with starting a digital communications project where they animate a short story.
Third- and fourth-graders started lab rotations using circuit mazes, laser mazes, snap circuits, and a gravity maze. “They work in pairs to complete a project portfolio on Google slides based on the kit they are exploring,” the teacher says. “This is still in the ‘beta’ phase to adjust the kiddos to using Google suite tools.”
The 6th grade students are working on a “futuristic car” mini challenge in Tinker CAD to learn the basics and build confidence for the larger competition held at a later time.
“STEM education is very important in the 21st century,” Mrs. Figueroa says. “STEM education helps create critical thinking, problem solving, innovation, and will plant the seeds for our students to be leaders in our world economy in the future.”
Mrs. Figueroa served active duty in the U.S. Air Force from 2009-2014 as a Materials Manager in charge of supplying multi-million dollar aircraft parts to maintenance mechanics on the flightline for C17, C5, KC135, and E3AWACS aircraft. Previously she taught third and fourth grade at the Adelanto Elementary School District. When there she taught an after-school coding class and engineering club.
Later, as the trimester was coming to a close, Mrs. Figueroa said, “This trimester has been a whirlwind of trial and error in the lab as I navigate this awesome role.”
“It is exciting to be reopening the STEM lab with a highly qualified teacher for our students of Lucerne Valley Elementary School,” said Superintendent Peter Livingston.