STOCKTON—Full-STEM ahead! The San Joaquin County Office of Education unveiled its newest creation on March 7 aimed to deepen STEM education in county schools.
The SJCOE-hosted open house and ribbon-cutting ceremony welcomed community members to tour SJCOE’s FabLab, an educational makerspace the county started operating at the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year.
Short for fabrication laboratory, the FabLab is filled with tools and state-of-the-art technology designed to get students excited about STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) through hands-on, integrated, standards-driven engineering projects.
It falls in line with a global obsession with makerspaces. There are thousands available worldwide.
“Our goal is to give the students in San Joaquin County the same experiences as students get in the Bay Area,” said Kirk Brown, director of SJCOE’s STEM program. “We want to expose them to the skills and tools that will be important to the STEM fields in the 21st century.”
Students in grades 2-12 use the makerspace—outfitted with computer-assisted design software, laser cutters, milling machines, 3D printers and other tools, representing both high-and low-tech—during field trips arranged by teachers at schools throughout the county.
To reach more students, access to the FabLab will be granted beyond field trips for special events.
One effort includes hosting the regional VEX robotics league. Another is to hold professional development activities for teachers, so they can better learn how to incorporate STEM teachings into their classrooms.
During summer and on weekends, biotech camps, robotics camps and coding camps will start using the FabLab as well, increasing the number of students SJCOE can serve with its existing camp programs.
On April 7, the FabLab will play host to an event for Congressman Jerry McNerney (D, 9th District) that focuses on Girls in STEM.
“We are excited about this facility being utilized by as many groups as possible to help support students and teachers,” Brown said.
James Mousalimas, SJCOE’s superintendent of schools stresses the importance of the center for teachers. As much as students need to learn the skills of the future, teachers need to be familiar with the concepts and equipment to properly teach it.
It is SJCOE’s mission to enhance STEM education in San Joaquin County schools by training teachers to improve STEM instruction in the classroom.
At the open house, community members were invited to get hands-on with the FabLab’s extensive equipment.
Students from Merrill F. West High in Tracy demonstrated robots they built to compete in VEX Robotics competitions.
Students from Tracy High and Venture Academy Family of Schools demonstrated other technology, including zSpace, a three-dimensional, augmented-reality computer used to study everything from anatomy to engineering.
Among the 58 county offices of education in California, Mousalimas said SJCOE earns high praise.
“From the information I have … we have the largest STEM department [in the state],” Mousalimas said. “Also I would say the best STEM department, and that’s deliberate. It is a priority of ours.”
The FabLab is the newest addition to the office’s lineup of STEM-focused offerings, created to deepen the exposure and understanding of STEM concepts for kids of all ages.
In addition to the county’s STEM curriculum in schools, SJCOE is dedicated to STEM beyond high school, championing itself as a place where technology thrives.
SJCOE created and operates the Center for Educational Development and Research (CEDR), a technology department focused on web, mobile and software application development.
SJCOE software developers run EdJoin, an education site that gets 10 million hits a week, and SEIS, the No. 1 software for special education in California.
Next year, Mousalimas said SJCOE will open its own coding academy to address the shortage of coders available in the job market.
The program would cater to adults, not students, but an 18-year-old high school graduate could attend following high school. And, because several schools in San Joaquin County offer coding classes in high school, they wouldn’t be starting at ground zero.
The academy would also address the problems other coding academies have created due to the lack of an industry standard for the trade.
For example, kids who do not attend a four-year college to study coding or a related field may enroll in private coding academies instead for 12-36 weeks and $15,000-$25,000, according to Mousalimas.
The lack of an industry standard means they may or may not come out of the program prepared to take on a job in the field.
“We know we can do it better,” Mousalimas said.