Hazel Park Kids Explore Oakland Schools STEM Lab, Envision Career Ideas
(Crystal A. Proxmire, July 7, 2021)
Hazel Park, MI- When kids are exposed to STEM technology, what does that really mean to them? Does it translate into job-preparedness? And how can thirty minutes of playing with robots and toy cars spark a lifetime of learning?
These are just some of the questions that STEM Consultants at Oakland Schools consider as they create educational opportunities that are developed and shared among the 28 local school districts served by the Oakland Intermediate School District. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math – focus areas that form the building blocks for modern creativity and innovation.
STEM Consultants Kyle Kilpatrick and Phil Kimmell were proud to be at Webb Elementary School in the Hazel Park School District for the first official summer learning session in the new STEMi Mobile Innovation Station. This trailer full of technology includes robotic machines that respond when students program it correctly, a 3D printer, and interactive games.
Two big attractions are the virtual reality goggles and a track for mini autonomous vehicles. The cars move around a track and students use digital signs to guide them.
The virtual reality goggles have users interacting with a whole new world. An instructor explained that not only is virtual reality used in video games, it helps in many professions. “Car companies use these to train their teams. Everyone can stand around with goggles on and there’s a whole car programmed in. They can all look and work on the car like it’s really there.” He explained that the same is true for medical students, who can explore a human body and even practice surgery without the need of a patient or cadaver.
As the young people became immersed in the artificial world, they’d move their hands and bump into neighboring kids also moving a bit in real life as in their digitally created space.
“Virtual reality was the big thing,” said Joan Rybinski who runs the latch key program for fourth graders who attended. “It’s hard to get used to wearing the goggles. It’s a little odd. Like you feel out of place. It’s easier for them though. They’re a generation of gamers. So for them this is seeing the next level.”
The race track mimics similar tracks used by automotive firms working on autonomous vehicles. The small scale technology helps designers work out issues before creating life-size vehicles for testing. As autonomous vehicles evolve, infrastructure will be put in throughout communities like wireless networks, signs, data collection and processing, safety features and more.
Rybinski and the students were excited for a hands-on visit. “Now that quarantine is over we’re trying to do different things like field trips to the zoo, to the DIA [Detroit Institute of Arts]. We do a lot with the library and their summer reading program,” she said. “Things that help keep the kids busy and interested in learning.”
It may seem a simple concept that getting kids to see technology firsthand may make them interested in working towards becoming inventors or programmers. But the obvious jobs are only the tip of the iceberg for many career paths tied to technology. The Oakland Schools STEMi Lab is designed to help kids explore potential career paths based on the feedback they give to the various stations in the unit.
“It’s not as simple as ‘you play with a robot and you grow up to make robots,'” Kimmel said. “There is a whole variety of careers related to STEM technology. People need to build the parts. You need people who know finance and human resources. You need people to understand the technology who can do marketing and social media. There are jobs processing the data. There are so many ways you can be part of technology companies without being the one building the robots.”
Kimmel and Kilpatrick said activities in the lab aren’t just about having fun and thinking technology is interesting. The stations have computers where students answer questions about their experience, including what they liked most about it. Oakland Schools gathers the data and teachers can have a better sense of the types of learning their students enjoy best, and what careers seem most appealing to them.
Questions help gauge if a student is drawn to the look and feel of an experience, if they are fascinated by the mechanics, if they like programming and solving problems, or if the idea of helping others is what sparks their interest. The programs suggest job ideas kids may not have even thought of, but more importantly than that, Kilpatrick said, “It gets them thinking differently about career paths, and having an open mind to jobs they may not have heard of before.”
“You ask kids what they want to be, and there are doctors, lawyers, firefighters. But then you start to learn there’s a lot out there you just don’t even know about. Like how construction careers are related to autonomous vehicles. Or how digital media and social media help people use technology better. We help them view careers through this different perspective.
“We help them identify what they’re passionate about. What do they like? What are they good at? And to see there is someone who will pay me to do what I like.”
As students go through the various stations, they get hands on experience, not just playing around or demonstrations. Here they see successes and failures and are taught to keep trying. “Self-efficacy is important,” Kilpatrick said. “We want kids to know they are capable of learning about new things. They have the power to learn and be successful, and find their own path.”
Stephanie Dulmage, Director of 21st Century Learning at Hazel Park Schools, was also on hand to see the STEMi Lab’s inaugural run. Hazel Park is one of five districts hosting the STEMi Lab as part of summer programming.
“What I saw is kids trying something new, taking a risk, failing and getting back on there to figure it out,” she said. “One thing we say a lot is to fail forward, and we need kids that aren’t afraid to do that. This is how we learn.”
Seeing technology in action, and talking about different career paths helps the kids see the world beyond just their school as well. Experts from Oakland Schools talk about various jobs, and introduce the students to new worlds. “This is the authenticity of learning,” Dulmage said. “Show them they can do it, and how it helps the world. Give them a voice and the ability to make an impact.”
The learning’s not just one-sided either. Grown-ups in the room are there to learn as well.
The computer system that helps kids connect with jobs that may appeal to them, also gathers data that teachers and Oakland Schools can use to make sure lessons are reaching the students where their minds and interests are. The discussions also help the STEM consultants fine-tune their efforts and see the world through kids’ eyes.
“We had one kid today who was using the LIDAR system [which guides the autonomous vehicles on the track] and compared it to ‘like a dolphin and echo location.’ That’s the kind of thinking we like to see, and it’s something I didn’t really think about from that perspective.”
The STEMi Lab officially was put to use in June, after doing some test sessions in Clarkston, Oxford, Southfield, and Huron Valley Schools. This summer they’ll also visit West Bloomfield, Pontiac, and Oak Park, with more schools to follow in the fall. In addition to the mobile lab, Oakland Schools has classroom sets of STEM items that are loaned to classrooms throughout the county. And they are working on supplemental resources for parents to help them as they also learn more about STEM and the careers that may interest their children. The Oakland Schools Career Readiness website has resources and ideas to help parents and students navigate this part of life.
Dulmer was pleased to have the program in Hazel Park. “We know that sometimes just an experience like this can impact a kid, and inspire them to be a strong thinker and a strong learner,” she said.
Learn more about Oakland ISD on their website.