Explore 2000 prides itself on being New Jersey's first S.T.E.A.M. vocational middle school, to which the students embody in their hands-on learning environment, which has produced some impressive projects. Explore 2000 delves into three thematic units per year, one in each respective trimester. In their first trimester for the 2016-2017 school year, “Oceans” were explored in many creative ways, as facilitators provided students with essential questions to guide the learning process while leaving room for student driven learning to occur. The infusion of technology within the curriculum allows students to attain technical skills and knowledge, the application of which, in conjunction with the rigorous curriculum, has resulted in some of the most technology rich projects to date at the middle school level. The students have access to an array of modern technologies such as the Stratasys 3D Printer and the Adobe CADD Software Suite, Vex Robotics kits supported by the Project Lead the Way curriculum, Hi-Definition digital recording cameras and movie making software, Hi-Definition audio recording and editing software, a Canon 36” banner printer, 85” Samsung Smart Boards, the one-to-one laptop initiative, and iPads just to name a few.
Some of the student projects that were a result of the aforementioned technologies was the water filtration system designed by Henrik using TinkerCad, and 3D printed with the Stratasys printer. Henrik stated the following, “My experience with TinkerCAD is that it is a good beginner CAD designer with a surprising amount of features for free. My personal experience is nothing but good. To make my models I usually use geometric shapes and holes for simple models, and for more complicated models, I source part files from Thingiverse.com. Thingiverse is a maker community that allows makers to share files for laser engravers, CNC mills, and 3D printers. TinkerCAD allows you to create files for all of those things. The interface is super simple and with a few tutorials, most can pick up the skills very easily.”
Forgoing traditional building materials, students choose to 3D print sea creatures to include in their Showcase. The realism of the objects brought to life the work that the students did, and provided a way for students to demonstrate the observations and connections they formed from the many field experiences related to the Oceans unit.
The banner printer has been used extensively to promote student activities throughout the school year, however the pupils began to use the printer in creative ways to reinforce their presentations and projects. One such use was the creation of a life size “Wheel of Jeopardy” game board, presented to the guests of the first trimester showcase. The contestants were immersed with the thrilling categories and mind-boggling questions.
For the annual Science fair, we saw in almost every experiment some form of technology utilized to solve the unanswered questions of the young minds. Roxy employed the use of the robotics program to demonstrate how a robotic arm would function when grasping objects. This required building and programming skills, of which she demonstrated advanced proficiency, a sure representation of her successful experiment. To complement, her peers choose to further their understanding of how a 3D printed prosthesis would function. The students in this group designed a model which they created using materials found around the home, and 3D printed a hand that required assembly and was capable of grasping objects as well.
Lastly, the craze of hoverboards were still on the minds of some of Explore 2000 students so they decided to build and code their own. “Lithium Ion batteries have a sensor in it that gets damaged easily, and when this happens the fires occur. We wanted to find an alternative to the previous generation hoverboards with our Science experiment,” stated Patrick.