The critical demand for skilled professionals in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields has been well-documented. As universities, colleges and technical programs heighten efforts to address the need, teachers and students at The Oakridge School are also helping to fill the STEM pipeline.
Inside one of Oakridge’s four makerspaces, students in the Honors Technology and Design-Thinking course and Honors Engineering course experience project-based learning, which allows the class to address real-time challenges and to pursue areas of interest to both students and the teacher.
This year, seniors Dawson Kundysek and Jake Oglesby put their education and technology skills to use in a way that helped fill a need for their chemistry teacher. It also brought chemistry to life for some of their peers.
“We turned a 2-D Lewis dot structure on paper into a 3-D structure to make things more engaging and more interesting,” said Kundysek. “With the new structures, our classmates can actually see where things bond. They don’t have to wonder whether they’re looking at a double or single bond and what elements are bonding together.”
Lewis structures, also known as Lewis dot formulas, are diagrams that show the bonding between atoms of a molecule and the lone pairs of electrons that may exist in the molecule. Kundysek and Oglesby also color-coded their structures to match the periodic table with the corresponding charge of the common ions. The two students made more than two dozen of the Lewis dot structures-- enough for use by students in each chemistry class.
“We consider questions such as ‘how can we use technology to improve the quality of lives?’ Not just simply, ‘how can technology make lives easier?’ There is a big difference,” said Matt Knauf, coordinator of the Upper School Makerspace. “Most of our children are consumers of everything. I want them to learn how to be designers of things. Whether they want to start their own businesses or work for Samsung, Apple, etc. – those companies want people who are independent thinkers and problem solvers.”
Knauf compares the course and work done in the makerspace to old school shop meets new tech. The students, he said, build everything from scratch. “Nothing is done with a kit, there are no shortcuts.”
Other examples of that old school meets new tech approach include the building of an arcade machine and an old school music box. Students have also designed a drone and are currently working to add a GPS antenna, so that the device can make corrections for wind speed when it flies.
Knauf’s course is open to freshmen through seniors. In addition to the design-thinking aspect, all students must complete the Stanford University Design School Virtual Crash Course online.
“When I first came to Oakridge, we had no idea of how our school would evolve to integrate this type of hands-on learning, building and collaborating,” Knauf said. “We went from having one 3-D printer to having three. Next, we want to acquire a laser printer to integrate the newest of technologies. I see our students partnering with Lockheed Martin or Bell Helicopter. We’re a step ahead of many schools in our region and the only independent school in Arlington, Tex. offering this type of innovation.”