Like much of what goes on in the Santa Fe 5/6 Center's STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) lab, the inspiration behind the learning center came from a combination of factors.
Most notably, Santa Fe teacher Megan Negal said there were two images in particular that gave birth to the beginning of the STEAM lab and shaped its mission. Both were of large crowds gathered in St. Peter's Square in the Vatican City. One, taken in 2005, showed a large group with only one cell phone visible among the crowd to document the moment, while the other (from Pope Francis' inauguration in 2013) displayed a throng of smartphones among the gathered masses — illustrating the great technological advancements in less than a decade and a key principle behind what Nagel and Beth Koehn wanted to do with the STEAM lab.
"If we haven't changed the way we're doing education...we're behind the curve already," Nagel said. "That's where the makings of the STEAM lab began."
Wanting to bring that cutting edge learning to students as well, Nagel and Koehn began making plans and attending conferences over the summer in an effort to launch the STEAM lab in the fall, with $3,000 in donations helping in that effort.
Nagel said the STEAM lab is meant to be a place where students can go and just "love to learn." From the presentation by several students at Monday's school board meeting, it is clear that idea has been embraced whole-heartedly at Santa Fe.
Students spoke enthusiastically about engineering projects like the cup challenge — which tasks teams of four to create the tallest tower of cups using only a handful of rubber bands, a task board members were put up to on the spot — and using coding for a number of projects, like drawing the number eight.
"I like this project because there are infinite possibilities for what we can do with code," said Santa Fe student Erik Kaufman.
Other activities highlighted included the creation of a video game, construction of a xyloba (a musical marble maze), the use of green screen to teach the alphabet and more.
Questions about how often the STEAM lab is used were brought up by board members and Nagel noted that is up to teachers' individual discretion, though this month the "12 Days of STEAM" event (highlighting different ways to use the resource) has been started to encourage even more participation — and technology integration specialist Rachel McClaran is helping by working with both students and teachers in the lab.
Getting all teachers comfortable with the ideas behind the lab is something Nagel said will be a focus with the learning center moving forward, because as both teachers and administration noted it is something that touches so many different facets of education.
"STEAM is something we want to be incorporated into what we're doing," said Santa Fe principal Jen Smith. "It's not going away."