May 26, 2022
VINCENNES, Ind. – Robot balls with colorful lights race around the floor. Tiny blue cars navigate a grid of brightly colored squares. Compact robotic arms pick up blocks.
Vincennes University is launching Design and Innovation Studios in elementary schools throughout Indiana, in partnership, with the Indiana Next Generation Manufacturing Competitiveness Center (IN-MaC) at Purdue University.
VU is boosting STEM education in K-8 schools to cultivate the next generation of high-tech thinkers and doers.
The robot balls, cars, robotic arms, and the studios’ other cutting-edge educational tools offer elementary students hands-on experiences through the use of relevant STEM equipment and technology. The studios provide various opportunities for schools, educators, students, and industry to discover new ways to explore design thinking, problem-solving, technology, and creative skill sets.
According to VU President Dr. Chuck Johnson, "The main goal is to introduce younger students to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math concepts through hands-on project learning. By doing so, we hope to engage students in topics like robotics, advanced manufacturing, computer sciences, physics, engineering, electronics, and design."
VU and IN-MaC are investing in youth in Dubois County and Perry County by purchasing equipment and technology, training the instructors, and implementing the curriculum.
Funding for the Design and Innovation Studios is made possible through VU’s $8 million Charting the Future for Indiana's Colleges and Universities grant from Lilly Endowment Inc.
Ribbon-cutting ceremonies took place earlier this month at new studios at Holland Elementary School and Northeast Dubois Elementary School in Dubois County and at Perry Central Elementary School in Perry County.
"Northeast Dubois Elementary School is excited to receive a Design and Innovation Studio thanks to the help and hard work of Vincennes University and IN-MaC," Northeast Dubois Elementary School Principal Courtney Hopf said. "This grant has allowed our youngest students an opportunity to experience STEM equipment and education that promotes problem-solving, teamwork, and career-readiness skills. We truly appreciate this opportunity for our students to further expand their education."
According to Johnson, VU and IN-MaC are working with other school corporations, mostly in Southern and Southwestern Indiana, to deploy additional Design and Innovation Studios in 2022 and beyond.
"VU is so excited to support these programs,” Johnson said. "Seeing the pure excitement and joy on the students’ faces when they are using the technology and getting it to work as they intended is a special feeling. We look forward to seeing how this program leads to future STEM students and contributors to our economic growth."
During the ribbon-cuttings in Dubois and Perry counties, second and fourth-grade students demonstrated the state-of-the-art technology and shared what they're learning while having fun.
At Holland Elementary, a cup decorated to look like a bunny and with a Sphero robot ball underneath it zoomed across the floor of the school's library. A recent activity involved students coding the robot balls and using them to maneuver the "bunny" through a maze challenge in an attempt to collect Easter eggs.
Haley Begle, a fourth-grade teacher and STEM Director, cut the ribbon on Perry Central’s studio alongside her students. She explains they are gaining much through its learning opportunities, and she adds they love engaging with everything in the studio.
"They are learning collaboration, how to be persistent, how to solve problems, and how to be flexible,” she said. “Sometimes things don't always go as planned, but my students are learning to take those roadblocks, figure out what caused them, and brainstorming ways to fix them. They are also learning how to be specific with directions and how to be leaders within our school. I am so proud of them and their willingness to try new things!"
A recent assignment allowed Begle’s fourth graders to put their studio’s 3D printers to use. Groups of students were assigned a book to read, then they picked a symbol they thought represented their book the best. They turned that symbol into a 3D object using the printers. Among the objects they created were an owl and a harmonica.
"My favorite thing is when I introduce something new, and I can see their eyes light up and the eagerness flowing out of them," Begle said. "Not only has this sparked curiosity in the my students, but it has also made them more confident to team up with peers to share what they have learned. Not too long ago we partnered with another class, and I have one of my students pair up with a student in the other class to teach them how to code a Sphero. It was so rewarding to watch them teach and work so fluently with their peers. I can't wait to watch what all our students will learn in the Design and Innovation Studio over the years. It truly is an amazing experience!"