By Beth Alexander, STEM Teacher & Curriculum Leader
"Students come away from the CERES lab with their eyes shining bright with excitement — you can tell they've been to an exciting place where a whole new world of possibilities just opened up for them. They are in an entirely different headspace, where they can think of themselves as creators affecting positive change in the world surrounding them."
— Linden Volunteer
This fall, Linden expanded its STEM program with the opening of the CERES (Coding, Engineering, Robotics, Electronics, and Science) Lab. For many years, we have been integrating computer studies, science, and design technology in our classes, and have seen its many benefits. By solving problems with real tools and materials, students develop a deeper understanding of abstract concepts, develop resilience while testing their ideas and planning modifications, gain an appreciation for how technology works in the world around them, and begin to view themselves as architects of a future in which they can make a difference in really practical ways. This new space allows us to expand on what we were already doing in STEM, particularly in enriching the ways in which girls see coding and robotics as truly limitless possibilities.
Linden's new CERES program aims to:
- develop advanced coding and engineering skills in girls from the first years at Linden;
- empower girls to see themselves as creators of technology, and not just its consumers;
- foster critical thinking and creative skills by focused engagement in the technological design process;
- connect coding, design, and engineering to issues of social justice by empowering girls to use these skills to solve problems in the world;
- advance practical skills in safe woodworking, electronics, and robotics;
- encourage girls to pursue STEM and ICT at secondary and post-secondary levels; and
- integrate engineering with science, math, and computer studies.
Designing our makerspace
In the late spring and through the summer, I began planning, building, and gathering the tools and resources needed to run the CERES program. Unlike a traditional computer lab with rows of seating, we wanted this space to foster collaboration so that students can work around large worktables. Given some of our limitations (like space and budget), I designed furniture to be mobile and multi-purpose, and reused as many existing materials as possible. For example, old filing cabinets that were slated to be thrown away became the bases for our workstations. An old globe became a string-dispensing station, an old skateboard now houses our screwdrivers, and a tennis racket keeps our alligator clips organized. This idea—that we send nothing to the landfill unless absolutely necessary—is one of the core values of our work in the lab.
We've had a busy and successful fall so far. Students in JK–2 have been studying the properties of different materials, and are using what they learned about rigid and flexible structures to design “hurricane-resistant” buildings.
Students in Grade 4–5 have been studying forces and are inventing and building devices designed to keep children safe in areas affected by landmines.
Grade 6 students are learning to code Makey Makey devices to illustrate data related to women's representation in governments around the world, and Grade 7 students have been designing and building assistive devices, inspired by the March of Dimes' DesignAbility program.
Grade 8 students have been working with our Engineer-in-Residence, Anna Dunets, on a series of projects related to water and sanitation in developing nations.
Grade 9 students are creating wearable tech designed to increase safety in a variety of circumstances. This beginning electronics project is one step on the way toward a bigger goal: creating robotic arms using Arduino and 3D-printing technology, which the students will program to perform different tasks. Stay tuned for updates!
The CERES lab is also the home to our popular Makers' Club. Each week, we choose activities based on interest and excitement, and incorporate a variety of manufacturing and digital skills into our work.
A huge thanks to student volunteers Lily Fletcher and Mieko Yao who helped build lab furniture and our 3D printer, to Paul Steep for arranging the donation of some of our hand tools, and to all of the families who donated materials for our lab. We are also grateful for funds awarded by the Ministry of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development.
Another important part of our program is integrating social justice topics into our work. Please join us at events throughout the year, such as the Social Justice Data Fair on November 23rd, where you will be able to see some of the projects that students have been working on. Each student in Grade 4 and up is also keeping a digital portfolio of her work in the lab, so encourage your daughters to share these with you!
The faces of proud inventors! Grade 6 students use air pressure to gain lift or thrust in their devices.
If you are interested in helping to support our program, the following donations will be gratefully accepted:
- Medium-sized pieces of solid wood (not pressure-treated)
- Hardware (screws, brackets, bolts, etc.)
- Wine corks
- Solid cardboard tubes that come inside aluminum foil
- Toy sets designed for building (snap circuits, Meccano, marble run, etc.)
- Craft supplies like feathers, popsicle sticks, etc
- Old machinery with moving parts
- Working smartphones or laptop computers