Bowman students embracing STEM lab, MakerSpace
BAKERSVILLE – In her official capacity at Bowman Middle School Shanna Cook is the librarian, but to her students she could be known also as the Makerspace lady.
Bowman students who are members of the Students Working to Advance Technology, or SWAT, team regularly converge on the converted space across the hall from the school’s library to simply “make things,” she said.
“Right now we are using tablets to create worlds on Minecraft,” Cook said. “The students seem to really be into it. They get it. It’s something that not only makes sense to them, but also is something they enjoy doing.”
Minecraft is a video game with creative and building aspects enabling players to create things with textured cubes in a 3-D generated world.
The Makerspace at Bowman has a 3-D printer, a robot that replicates paintings and MaKey MaKey touchpad kits that turn objects such as bananas into wired devices, among other items.
“I have the best job,” Cook said. “It’s so much fun. Students never complain when their class comes to the library. Kids actually want to come here.”
The Makerspace is one result of a $350,000 Golden LEAF grant awarded to Mitchell County Schools to implement science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, curricula at Harris and Bowman middle schools as well as Mitchell High School.
“These labs provide students valuable hands-on manipulative and interactive resources,” said Chad Calhoun, superintendent of Mitchell County Schools. “They will be used to build a strong foundation of math and science skills.”
Some Makerspace projects were purchased using money from two Learning Links grants from the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina, which are intended for schools to provide hands-on creative learning projects to their students.
A short walk from the Makerspace is Bowman’s STEM lab. The 10-module lab has an irrigation station where students design, build and test irrigation methods, a robotics station, an injection molding station for plastics, a crime scene station where students learn to dust for fingerprints and laser cutting and printing station.
“We did career exploration and the students know they are being exposed to skills they could use in this area,” said Veronica Pitman, Bowman STEM teacher. “They know there are places right here in Mitchell County that need and want to hire people with the skills they are learning right here in this lab.”
The option of staying and working in Mitchell County is crucial to future economic development, Calhoun said.
“Our current economic development plan in Mitchell County is centered around occupations that are focused precisely on areas of emphasis in STEM,” he said. “This allocation is a reflection of our schools system’s efforts in working with our local EDC and industry as our county needs a workforce that can think critically and understand and apply engineering design processes.”
Bowman science teacher Rhonda Phillips once had a Science Olympiad team. Now in her final year as a teacher at Bowman, Phillips said she is astonished at how far technology in schools has progressed.
“I remember cutting pictures of equipment out of science catalogs for students to look at just so they would know what to look for when they got to the state competition at NC State because we didn’t have access to things such as a stirring rod and wash bottle,” she said. “I can only imagine how well we would have done had we had the equipment and materials the students have in the Makerspace.”