Innovating STEM Education
The transformation of Room 311 began in the spring of 2016 when Principal Steve Tortorello recognized a need to advance the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) curriculum at Marian Catholic. Given the predicted increase in STEM-related careers, Principal Tortorello wanted to make sure students had the opportunity to train in STEM-related disciplines – coding, engineering, computer-assisted design (CAD), and robotics. After consulting with education experts, including Dr. Matt Kloser, Director of the Center for STEM Education at the University of Notre Dame, Tortorello assembled a team of faculty and staff to forge a plan for the future.
Room 311 had long served as a computer lab at Marian Catholic, but with the conversion to iPads in 2014, utilization of the room diminished drastically. Many students no longer needed a dedicated place to type and print papers since they were directly submitting their work to teachers electronically. The dormant resource room was ideally situated for repurposing as the school’s new STEM lab.
Fast forward to 2018 and Room 311 is anything but dormant. Home to Marian Catholic’s engineering program, the room is “brimming with stuff” as Tortorello describes it. New tables, computer monitors, 3-D printers and a laser cutter afford students the opportunity to design and create.
In the first year of the program, as sophomores, students are taught the fundamentals of design and introductory mechanics. During the first semester, they build a miniaturized ski lift using any of the materials available in the lab. As juniors, students receive an introduction to computer-aided design and discover how to take an idea they have formulated in their mind and bring it to fruition. They learn how to use 3-D printers to manufacture their own components so they can build bigger, better things. Seniors are exposed to electronics and programming, with the end goal of building a remote-controlled search and rescue robot.
In the end, the students gain valuable skills in problem-solving, design, critical thinking, time management, collaboration, and even writing (students have to submit a technical paper with every major project). Their exposure to a variety of engineering topics – mechanical, civil, electrical, software – and an understanding of the design cycle, prepares them for any college engineering major.
Students can often be found in the STEM lab at Zero Hour (6:55 a.m.) anxious to see how their 3-D print design came out. Did it turn out the way they expected? What changes do they need to make in class? Perhaps it is not just Room 311 that has been transformed.