MERIDEN — Students at Lincoln Middle School are getting hands-on experience with coding and manufacturing in a new “STEM Lab” opened by the school this year.
The laboratory, converted from a former computer lab, includes four 3D printers, which students use to print products like drones and cell phone charging docks after completing the coding necessary to command the printers. The lab also includes a CNC, or “computerized numerical controlled” machine, which is used to carve and engrave wood products.
Lessons in the new laboratory are aligned with the school’s science curriculum, Principal Dianne Vumback said.
“We’re trying to get more creative with our curriculum and this hands-on approach really reinforces the 3D concepts that they’re learning in the science classrooms,” Vumback said.
An increasing number of schools around the country are creating similar STEM Labs to give students first-hand experience with Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Washington Middle School unveiled its STEM Lab last year and both Platt and Maloney high schools added labs during renovations.
STEM initiatives are also being pushed by schools to address a growing manufacturing workforce shortage created by a lack of skilled workers entering the field to replace baby boomers exiting manufacturing.
Vumback said the labs give students “21st Century skills” and make students more “career-focused.”
“We see this as the future. Everything is coding and technology, so the more they understand how things work, the better they’re prepared,” said Dave Levenduski, the school district’s supervisor of instruction & learning.
U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th, toured the new STEM Lab Monday and told students the skills they are learning in the lab translate directly to manufacturing and technology jobs.
Ellie Galasso, an eighth-grader who is working in her class to create a cell phone charging dock, said the laboratory “makes us think about different job opportunities in the future and helps us see if we want to pursue a career with coding, engineering, or things like that.”
“It’s a great way to explore new things,” Galasso added.
Vumback said the laboratory is used by the sixth, seventh and eighth-grade classes, as well as after-school groups, which Levenduski says use the 3D printers to create drones.
“They build them, they fly them, they learn how to operate them, it’s really cool,” Levenduski said.
Prior to the opening of the STEM Lab, the room was filled with computers that students used to create designs.
“It’s way more hands-on. In sixth grade, we just all sat at a computer clicking,” eighth-grader Jaimie Harnois said.
“With this classroom,” Vumback said, “we find that the students are much more engaged with what they’re doing, and they’re grappling with how to solve a problem when they’re not given the answers.”
Esty said she was impressed with the students’ eagerness to learn.
“What excites me most is the enthusiasm they have… and their understanding that coding and technology provides them with the ability to pursue their dreams,” Esty said.