Students work to assemble the robot

6th Graders are receiving a STEAM education through Denver Public Schools!

As part of the 2020 bond, Bryant-Webster Elementary School, a Dual Language ECE-8 school located in the Northwest of Denver, received a new STEAM lab to accelerate their computer science curriculum. 

Bryant-Webster is one of three schools who were fortunate enough to receive this essential funding and excel their STEAM education programming. 

Craig Herrera, Technology Teacher for Bryant-Webster, received 15 brand new iMacs for classroom instruction. He also received SmartLab kits, which will be used to help usher in a new STEAM & Project-Based Learning curriculum. Eventually, Mr. Herrera, along with other DPS educators who are in a similar position, will receive SmartLab training to help them lead their classrooms in the direction of this new pedagogy.

The most beneficial update to the curriculum, besides the new tech equipment, projects, and the forecasted training for educators, came from a surprising place: interior design and function. Mr. Herrera has been doing this job for 22 years and has had the same classroom layout for those 22 years. Due to school budgets being tight, he never imagined he’d be able to create a new layout – now he has one. 

Mr. Herrerra reports being able to move around with more ease to help kids, and that kids are better able to help each other as well. Data ports and electrical changes have helped the space have more freedom. With the current set-up, Mr. Herrera has the ability to control every computer in the room, while providing ample space for learning.

In addition to these exciting changes, once the 2020 bond passed, DPS was able to offer a grant for tech educators interested in adding a robotics program to their curriculum. Teachers were required to apply if they were interested in the Vex Robotics program, VEX is an educational robotics program that assists teachers with tools, curriculum, and professional development. Mr. Herrera applied, and the students are already off to the races!Mr. Herrera and students around a set of Mac computers

“…it helps kids build their confidence – no matter who they are, where they come from, they can do this.”

Mr. Herrera’s 6th graders are planning on going to a special exhibition, to play robot soccer with the robot they’re going to build through the program. Some of the kids have already gotten together to begin building the robot, and they’ve been practicing their soccer skills in an after-school club. Their goal is to be prepared for the DPS STEAM Expo happening this year on Saturday, April 29th.

So, what makes the students so excited about robotics? Mr. Herrera says the following:

“It is the building process, building the robot is very interesting to them. Also, not all the students, but a majority of the students, enjoy the coding aspect. It’s about learning how to code the robot and figuring out how it works, building something and having it work through you controlling it, it helps kids build their confidence – no matter who they are, where they come from, they can do this.”Students work to assemble the robot

“It gives them a set of skills for the 21st century and it helps them think more globally. It also helps them work more collaboratively with each other.”

Equity in STEM and STEAM education is an important and evolving subject. STEM, which stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and STEAM which has been created in recent years to integrate reading, writing, and critical thinking into the curriculum through arts education. A STEAM education is the model of choice, when interdisciplinary collaboration is the new normal. 

For many years there has been a push to prioritize women and minorities in the science, tech, engineering and mathematical fields, as they have been historically underrepresented. Mr. Herrera knows the mighty significance of these fields and what they do for children in his classroom. 

“The importance of getting STEAM in the hands of minority students, and female students, can not be overstated,” he says, “I have two girls who have taken off with these projects, underrepresented students need exposure to this, without this program they might not have been introduced until high school. Some kids might not realize that they love this stuff, until they’re exposed to it,” he continues. 

Students following an assembly tutorial videoWhen asked about the future of STEM and STEAM education, Mr. Herrera had something to say as well,

“I do think it’s bright, I think it’s constantly changing, we can not ignore the importance of tech education. The pandemic brought our kids into technology, and although they weren’t proficient technologists before when they just used a computer in class- now they have a constant requirement for tech. Keyboarding and mouse skills, how to format documents, how to use spreadsheets, how to use a slideshow- these kids are still building these skills- they can text, record, etc., but they still need to be taught tech skills. We can’t assume that because our students are born with technology that they have technological skills.”

When asked why STEM and STEAM are so important for our kids, Mr. Herrera shared that it makes different connections in the brain.

“It gives them a set of skills for the 21st century and it helps them think more globally. It also helps them work more collaboratively with each other.”

In order for these types of programs to continue in our schools, additional funding is needed and necessary in the years to come. 

When asked what Mr. Herrera loves most about teaching, he answered:

“The interaction with the kids, seeing their excitement when they learn something new, and when they actually enjoy it.”