It might look like playing games, but there is serious learning going on in a repurposed classroom on the top floor of Santa Fe 5/6 Center.
Kids are standing at different locations, while small robots play what looks like a game of soccer among them. Those robots were programmed by the kids in the class. They can not only program the robots to avoid students but to show different types of emotions.
"We are calling this our STEAM lab," said teacher Megan Nagel. "It is focused on a lot of science and technology and coding — taking kids and giving them opportunities to experience things they may not have experienced before."
STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, art and math.
The room, which has flexible seating options and a stage at one end, looks out over the school atrium. Inside there are different kinds of objects, some that resemble science toys, that can be used to make and create projects.
Students are learning how to write computer code, design objects, use 3-D printers and robots. Coming yet this year is a Santa Fe newscast, using equipment in the classroom.
"It is a different type of learning," Nagel said. "It is more student-centered and less teacher centered. Students are figuring out what materials they are going to use and how they are going to create something. As a teacher, it is exciting to watch. They are choosing things they are passionate about and want to learn more about."
One of the more popular activities this year was using plastic cups, string and rubber bands to build towers — without the use of human hands to do the stacking.
"The towers reached six, seven and eight feet tall," said Beth Koehn, one of the teachers who helped organize the room.
"This is a positive science and math environment to our school," Nagel said.
Teachers are learning as well.
"This is a place where teachers can come and enjoy this technology," Koehn said. "Sometimes technology can be overwhelming. It is a safe space for them, where things are already set up and ready for them."
Much of the equipment was purchased with grant funds, part of an annual grant program by district USD 373.
Students visit the room about once per week to work on projects.
"They love it," Koehn said. "When we can't come here, they are disappointed."