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Alabama School's STEM Lab Teaches Coding, AR/VR, Podcasts

A new learning space unveiled at Chestnut Grove Elementary School in Decatur, Ala., is giving students hands-on experience with augmented and virtual reality, coding, producing podcasts and music.

STEM graphic showing the word "STEM" in bright red surrounded by a red box. There are illustrations of two children, a boy on the left of the box and a girl on the right, in bright blue. There are multiple symbols in the background of things like robots, graphs and laptops.
(TNS) — Chestnut Grove Elementary fifth grader Henry Robbiano used to have trouble speaking to groups of fellow students, but that changed when he began his own podcast in the school's new STEM-based learning space last month.

Principal Rebekah Higgins said before the learning space was designed, Robbiano's reserved nature presented a hurdle.

"In the first podcast he did this week, he shares a story about how nervous he was when he did his speech in front of the Student Council when he ran for president," Higgins said. "He said, 'With (the podcast), I don't have to worry about a crowd. I can enjoy speaking with people without being in front of a large crowd.'"

The new learning space was presented to the public on Wednesday but Robbiano and nine other students in fourth and fifth grades have been hard at work for almost two months, designing images in augmented reality, learning to code on their iPads, producing music, and interviewing people with the new built-in studio.

Fourth grader Jayden Orr produces instrumental music with GarageBand software and collaborates with others in the learning space by writing music for their projects.

"With these different music icons, I can plug them into this grid on the computer and make different sounds," Orr explained to Decatur City Schools Superintendent Michael Douglas and Wanda Davis, elementary curriculum supervisor.

Orr sends his music to other classmates' Apple devices, where Robbiano uses them for his podcast and fourth grader Mazen Mozeb uses them for his augmented reality projects.

Mozeb utilizes a computer application called CoSpaces Edu to create his virtual content. He scans a device with the app called a Merge Cube, an actual physical cube, and it transforms into a hologram.

Robbiano's podcast Wednesday featured Douglas and Davis and he spoke with them about Decatur schools and asked what leadership traits a person should strive for.

"When I come over here and see stuff like this going on, it does give me encouragement to do my job well when I see students doing well," Douglas said during the podcast.

"That does make sense," Robbiano replied. "You want students to do the right thing."

Robbiano also uses GarageBand software on his laptop to record his podcasts and uses a production mixer to adjust volume levels on his microphones and headphones.

"These buttons here (on the mixer), they have sound effects," Robbiano said. "You can even make your own custom sounds on here."

Higgins said the new room, named the Launch Pad by Chestnut Grove students, offers vast opportunities for those interested in STEM-related fields (science, technology, engineering and math.)

"Prior to this, we had our robotics team and our green power team and a technology class that was more for upper grades, but this is a whole different level," Higgins said. "Our media specialist and I started brainstorming in the spring and I didn't know at the time that Faith (Plunkett), our district technology coach, had partnered with Ed Farm to launch a learning space here."

Ed Farm is a Birmingham-based nonprofit organization that provides schools and communities with innovative tools and strategies to further promote STEM learning.

"This is our second Ed Farm space," said Ed Farm CEO Waymond Jackson. "Our first space was built in March in Birmingham City Schools and it's called the South Hampton Innovation Lab. At Chestnut Grove, this gives them a lot of opportunities. They're learning to code, they're learning artificial intelligence, how to build web content for media ... anything that's needed for the 21st century workforce in the state of Alabama."

Plunkett said Chestnut Grove's learning space cost $125,000 and was fully funded by Ed Farm "through a variety of grants for innovation." She said renovation for the learning space began in May and was completed in September.

©2022 The Decatur Daily (Decatur, Ala.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.