HomeSchools & YouthValentine STEM Lab 'A Structured Playground'

Valentine STEM Lab ‘A Structured Playground’

A sign inside the door of Valentine Elementary School’s new STEM Lab encourages those who enter to ‘Imagine, Inspire and Achieve,’ and it’s difficult to any of those lofty goals not being possible given the new learning tools that have been provided for students.

Hoping to make the learning of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics more enjoyable and accessible – hence the acronym STEM – the San Marino Unified School District has opened new classrooms dedicated to those disciplines at each elementary school. And the results are impressive, according to Valentine Principal Colleen Shields and Crystal Shin, a first-year teacher with the SMUSD who operates the new space as a full-time STEM instructor.

Located on the site of a former computer lab, the new STEM Lab features new kid-friendly chairs, tables that can be easily moved together or raised and lowered depending on the needs of the curriculum, a new full-wall dry erase board with magnetic capability, a projector that will assist students in explaining their projects, two 70” television monitors and a Smartboard.

“Which is really a huge IPad,” Shin explained, with a chuckle. “It helps them explain their thoughts, visually, using diagrams. Kids love drawing on white boards.”

Shields touted the new chairs, which are available in three shapes and sizes and can be used in several different positions.

HOKKI POKEY: A student sits on one of the new hokki stools, which allow for for more individual movement and helps the student to concentrate on the lesson, according to teacher Crystal Shin. Mitch Lehman Photo

“They were chosen last year by our student council,” said Shields. “They offer better ergonomic support and allow for more movement by the student. Our goal was to make it a more flexible learning space. Research on kids says that like to move around and they like to stand up. The tables have wheels and they can be moved together for group learning. We did a lot of research on STEM learning spaces.”

“And they love the colors,” Shin added. “The students’ faces light up when they come in here. The chairs allow the student to move around and take out that excess energy,” Shin said. “It allows the students’ brain to concentrate on the lesson.”

All students have access to the STEM Lab for two hours a week during six-week long rotations. Wednesday marked the fist day of a new cycle that involved second and third graders, their faces lit up with excitement was they entered the room, many for the first time. Shin is currently teaching a segment that covers currently studying Earth & Space Science.

“This is really a structured playground,” said Shin, who came to San Marino from the Brea-Olinda School District. “This is the new type of California science. The goal is to embed the STEM components and have the students interact while learning science content. It’s using what you learn instead of memorizing facts and regurgitating them back onto a test. The students are building and putting what they learn into practice. I feel that if I have to tell someone who is not in education what is happening, it’s that the students are learning, but the focus is now on the doing and the explaining. I feel that in elementary school, that is what kids need to do. At this age, a child’s attention span is maybe 10 minutes at best. Reading for an hour is not going to help. It’s important to show them that science is fun.”

The Valentine PTA provided funding for the project and the district pitched in with labor.

“It has been a collaborative project,” said Shields.

There is, however, one downside.

“I love these new chairs so much that now, whenever I visit other classrooms, I want to get more,” she said with a hearty laugh.


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