Independence Elementary was a haven of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math on the evening of Feb. 21.
In the library, Independence students and parents alike were donning plastic safety glasses and watching robots zoom around the room to perform simple tasks. In the gym, a wide range of local professionals from STEM-related fields offered immersive views into their everyday work, whether it was forecasting the local weather, unearthing dinosaur fossils near Morrison or leading Virtual Reality excursions via laptops and high-tech goggles. And in individual classrooms across the school, students had the chance to show off their recent, high-tech class work to parents, friends and community members alike.
It was all part of the school's "Lego Laboratory: Do You Accept the Challenge?" event that invited budding scientists of all ages to try their hand at immersive and educational activities. For the fifth year in a row, Independence welcomed hundreds of community members for the evening event designed to spotlight the students' everyday work in challenging fields.
"We have been working a lot on design challenges and project-based learning," said Sherri Tobin, Independence Elementary instructional coach. "Each grade level has a different design challenge with some Lego component to it."
That included technology like Makey Makey kits, or technology designed to teach users the essentials of coding and programming, as well as old-fashioned building projects featuring Legos, building blocks familiar to attendees of all ages.
"It's designed to be interactive, so that students and their families can design together and just experience and explore the different STEM themes," Tobin said. "It's pretty open-ended … We want to be incredibly welcoming and inviting."
According to Independence Elementary Principal Lisa Morris, this year's event hinted at even more impressive progress to come when it comes to the school's focus on STEM, innovation and state-of-the-art technology, as well as project-based learning.
"Teachers just did a whole planning unit on project-based learning, and this is a nice kickoff to that focus," Morris said. "We want to make that more of a part of what we do moving forward."
Looking even further ahead, the STEM night offered a preview of exciting expansions to come at the school. Independence is one of the next cohort of CCSD schools that's due for renovations this summer. The addition of upgraded innovation spaces at Independence is part of a larger bond package approved by voters in 2016 that will eventually see similar upgrades at all district elementary and middle schools. Last summer, 30 schools received these updates; Morris said the entire Independence community is excited about the upcoming upgrades to the school's media center, which hosted a guest robotics team for this year's STEM night.
"We're very excited about that space," Morris said. "It'll be fun to see how we use that for next year's STEM night. We visited the new sites; it helped us to see schools in the district that already have those spaces and incorporate elements that we want for Independence."