On Friday, February 21, the STEAM Machine and accompanying student ambassadors set forth on their maiden voyage to Whitworth Elementary in what would become the first Drive-In STEAM Machine Field Trip. Fourth grade Whitworth teacher Keeton Luther enthusiastically invited a morning of discovery and adventure while his students embraced STEAM concepts and tools they applied to the history of our state. With the assistance of fifth-grade teachers Brian Williamson and Jena Vessel, as well as the LaCreole STEAM team, activities were introduced that brought the journey along The Oregon Trail to life. Students practiced design thinking as they constructed wagons with the correct weight and engineering to travel the furthest, while elsewhere in the classroom, other youth participated in a Sphero “mini-golf” challenge, navigating around different Oregon Trail landmarks.

Meanwhile, The STEAM Machine boasted stations that included 3-D Printing, Sam Labs, Bloxels, Specdrums, Scratch, and Makey Makey tasks again each centered around an Oregon Trail theme. And while fourth-grade students eagerly traveled with passport in hand through each of these endeavors, a team of seven young adult ambassadors coached, mentored, and celebrated the achievements alongside the youth. Brian Williamson shared that it was…”super fun to watch young learners learn by doing and experiencing versus being talked to or memorizing facts – not that either of those are evil… simply less valuable/effective. Kids just don’t remember that stuff as well as an experience. Also, super fun to watch older, former students come back and aid in a learning process they thrived in themselves.”

The participants also freely communicated in letters of gratitude their appreciation. One fourth-grader wrote: “Thanks for taking the day to bring The STEAM Machine. It was COOL! My favorite was the Oregon Trail Game. And thanks for your helpers. Thanks for teaching us everything.”

After the whirlwind few hours of the STEAM Machine Drive-In encounter, the team leaders, ambassadors, and partners in this project were able to reflect on this initial experiment of immersive hands-on learning. Audrey Duncan, a freshmen ambassador communicated her favorite aspect of the event. “I really loved when I got to tell the kids about something and see them get excited and giddy. It made me realize how many futures we are supporting through this project.” Emma Hausler, also a freshman ambassador added, “It is a great opportunity that I am grateful to be a part of! The first event was amazing and I’m sure the future ones will be even better.” And truly, this was the takeaway from all involved. A dream has become reality and as a result, a foundation of learning built on excitement, exploration, creativity, critical thinking, risk, and reward has emerged in even greater measure. Sure, there were hiccups, hurdles, and room for growth in this preliminary launch. But the benefits of watching our older youth lead with excellence and our younger youth learn and play with passion can not be measured. Jena Vessel summed it up well. “One of my favorite quotes is from Dorothy Parker. ‘The cure for boredom is curiosity; there is no cure for curiosity. Cultivating curiosity in our students makes learning more effective and more fun. In my opinion, the purpose of the STEAM Machine and the Drive-In Field Trips is to have this great big hands-on reminder that learning is fun, innovation is important, and being curious is awesome.”

Post written by Michele Schilling, Innovate Dallas STEAM Team