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Teachers Learn Hands-on Technology at McKinley STEAM Academy

A recent professional development program in Iowa's Cedar Rapids Community School District coached educators on incorporating 3D printers, electronic cutting machines and green screen video technology into lessons.

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(TNS) — Middle school students next year will build their own skeleton to learn the bones in the human body using a 3D printer in a McKinley STEAM Academy wellness class.

McKinley STEAM Academy wellness teacher Ben Torres Duran is learning how to incorporate technology in the school's maker space — a place for hands-on learning — in to his classes.

"Hands-on learning helps kids understand and learn way better than sitting at a desk, listening to a teacher and doing worksheets," Torres Duran said. "We could also make models of organs like the heart and brain, so when we teach about it kids have their 3D printed brains they can take apart."

Torres Duran participated in a professional learning opportunity earlier this month along with about 40 other teachers from McKinley STEAM Academy, 620 10th St. SE in Cedar Rapids, offered by the Cedar Rapids Public Library.

McKinley STEAM — science, technology, engineering, arts and math — Academy is a magnet school in the Cedar Rapids Community School District for sixth- to eighth-graders. Magnet schools provide students with more hands-on experiences than the traditional school model.

Teachers learned how to use:

  • A 3D printer, a method of creating a three dimensional object layer-by-layer using a computer-created design;

  • A Cricut, an electronic cutting machine that can cut all sorts of designs from materials like paper, vinyl, card stock and iron-on transfers;

  • And "green screen" video technology — being able to record a person or adding visual effects in front of a solid color that can be deleted and replaced with a different background or images.

The professional learning opportunity was created after library staff heard from several teachers that they were not comfortable using the technology and incorporating it in to their curriculum.

Ted Olander, McKinley's magnet coordinator and instructional coach, said teachers are learning to "connect tools with content."

McKinley launched as a magnet school during the 2019-20 school year, but plans to fully incorporate STEAM into the school's programming was thwarted by the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020 when schools were forced to modify learning to slow the spread of the virus, Olander said.

"All that technology wasn't really being used," Olander said. "It's great to have all those things, but if teachers don't have the tools and are not equipped to integrate them with instruction, they're just going to sit on a shelf."

The school's partnership with the library "came to the rescue," Olander said.

Most of the jobs that will be available in 2030 haven't even been invented yet, he said. "When these kids go in to the job market, most of them are not going to be doing anything we have today," Olander said.

Educators today are asking themselves how to design innovative and engaging experiences to help students learn how to collaborate, think critically, problem solve, be creative and communicate, Olander said.

Torres Duran is finding that students who are traditionally quiet in class are outgoing when it comes to working with technology. They "step up and take charge," he said.

The professional learning is giving him better ideas about how to incorporate the technology available in to his curriculum. One student project will have students "create" a health or medical product and record an infomercial using green screen technology about how that product works, Torres Duran said.

"Technology is one huge skill set kids will need when they finish high school and go out in to the workforce," Torres Duran said.

Students in Molly Sofranko's art class are using Cricut this year to design T-shirts, Sofranko said. Working as a team to develop prototypes and present them to the class prepares students for the "real world," Sofranko said. This technology gives students the opportunity to see themselves in different careers including skilled labor, computer, arts and engineering, she said.

"This technology translates to so many different disciplines," Sofranko said. "It's really important for students to get excited about it."

©2022 The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.