STEM Innovation Center coming in 2016

Starting next fall, Center Grove students will be able to use a space designed to let them experiment, work on robotics and collaborate with their classmates.

Center Grove is putting the finishing touches on designs for a science, technology, engineering and mathematics innovation center where STEM lessons can be incorporated into students’ everyday learning. A former maintenance building behind Center Grove High School is being renovated to form three distinct areas for students to use: a permanent home for the robotics teams to work and store their machines, a collaborative space and labs for students to conduct experiments.

Renovations that are expected to cost less than $2 million are underway, but officials are hopeful the building will be ready for the robotics team to move in by the end of the year, said Center Grove chief technology officer Jason Taylor. The Red Alert robotics team currently uses wood shop space and other neighboring classrooms in the high school to build their robots and work on additional projects, such as writing news releases and planning fundraisers.

The designated space in the innovation center will give the team a permanent home, Taylor said.

The other sections of the center won’t be ready until next year, but by the spring, a few students should be able to visit the innovation center so teachers can test out the classrooms, Taylor said.

The goal of the innovation center is to allow students to build up their problem-solving skills, Taylor said. Problem-solving skills will be valuable to every student, regardless of their future career, Taylor said.

STEM coach Matt Ehresman, formerly an eighth-grade teacher at Center Grove Middle School Central, is working with teachers now to see how they can integrate STEM lessons into their classroom. The goal is for teachers to start STEM-based lessons in their classroom, and then take a trip to the innovation center for experiments or to use specialized machines to enhance the lesson, Ehresman said.

Instead of keeping all of the STEM technology within the innovation center, Center Grove wants to boost STEM education in every classroom.

In order to do that, the school district is also looking at buying equipment that can be used in classrooms, such as STEM kits, which would include individual supplies for smaller-scale experiments and portable gadgets, Ehresman said.

Another idea is to purchase a portable 3-D printer that would rotate among the school buildings that could be used for printing cell phone cases or robot parts, for example.

Taylor and Ehresman want every single student to have at least one class or experiment in the innovation center by the end of the 2016-17 school year, they said. They also want the innovation center to serve as additional classroom space for high school classes.

“We really want to have some high school courses offered out of that facility,” Taylor said.

To find out what machines, classes or programs would fit best in the innovation center, Center Grove administrators met with teachers, community members and parents to find out what is most important for students to learn. Staff members formed a task force and later a think tank to find the best tools for students to use.

Meeting with community members and teachers allowed school officials to ask, “How do we want to define STEM at Center Grove?” Taylor said.

Don Cummings, technical talent development manager at Endress + Hauser in Greenwood, has been involved with planning the innovation center, which he hopes will focus on strengthening students’ 21st century skills, he said.

STEM typically focuses on engineering or robotics skills, and students cannot succeed on those skills alone, Cummings said. Students also need to be able to communicate well, meet people, collaborate and be able to lead when necessary, Cummings said.

But it is also important to introduce children to STEM principles in elementary school, he said.

“From what I’ve seen, kids have a lot of imagination and want to explore at a young age,” Cummings said. “Usually the system we use for teaching shuts that off, and so we can try to keep that door open.”

At a glance

A new STEM innovation center is under construction behind Center Grove High School, with hopes of being incorporated into curriculum by the 2016-2017 school year. Here’s a look at what will be included in the center:

  • A permanent space for the Red Alert high school robotics team, with enough room to build machines and store their robots
  • A collaborative space for students to work together, and can also be used after school by the non-engineering robotics team members
  • A flexible lab space, where students can experiment in a traditional lab setting, but the furniture can be easily moved around for different set-ups