FORT HOOD — The newest science technology instructor in town is 38 feet long and scheduled to make multiple visits to 26 Killeen ISD elementary schools this year.
The Killeen ISD mobile STEM lab made its highly anticipated debut on Aug. 30, ending the first week of the school year on a high note for a group of lucky fifth-graders at Venable Village Elementary School on Fort Hood, the first students to see it.
The grant-funded, rolling lab parked alongside the elementary school long enough for its driver and teacher to try it out in front of a small group of excited campus and district staff members, students and parents.
For teacher Rowena Sablan, entering her 19th year teaching, the chance to travel on the mobile lab and conduct what she calls “engineering design” activities with third-, fourth- and fifth-graders is a dream job.
Three groups of fifth-graders made their way with teachers outside the school, where they took in the eye-catching exterior of the customized vehicle — its name is “STEM in Motion” — and toured the insides with its television monitors, modern seating and lab spaces.
For each group, Sablan used a microphone to welcome the students and asked them if they know what STEM is. They did.
Third-, fourth- and fifth-graders at 26 elementary schools will participate in activities that meld together the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and math.
The lessons, the teacher said, intentionally invite students to explore, to try, to fail and to solve problems and try again. The mixture of computer coding, robotics programming and other challenges will require students to collaborate in teams.
“We’re preparing kids for jobs that don’t yet exist,” Sablan said.
Her partner, Michala Casarez, a three-year KISD bus driver, is piloting the mobile lab and serving as a classroom assistant. “I like to learn along with the kids,” she said. “I like to be in this environment with them and help them succeed.”
One of the largest smiles in the group belonged to KISD STEM Academy Director Cynthia Hodges. She began in February 2018 working on a federal grant.
The district learned last November it won the $1 million “STEM in Motion” Department of Defense Education Activity grant that targets schools serving large populations of military-connected students.
Since then, Ohio-based Farber Specialty Vehicles worked to construct the mobile lab with its flexible furniture, 60-inch smart television, 39 laptops and 30 iPads and a wide range of science and technology supplies.
Over the next week or so, technology testing and formatting will continue to get the lab started on its regular routes around Sept. 9.
“I’m very happy we can provide this kind of learning,” said Hodges as students filed off the vehicle.
“I liked everything about it,” said fifth-grader Levi Marshall. “I liked the technology, the computers. I think it will be fun instead of working all the time.”
“I think it gives kids great exposure to technology,” said Venable Village fifth-grade teacher Scott Roach. “Coding is the future,” he said, explaining that his grown son works as a coder for an airline.
“It’s something for them to look forward to,” said fifth-grade teacher Dana Easter. “They seem excited. I like the problem-solving and that they know they can fail and learn from mistakes.”
Todd Martin is an employee of the KISD communications department and writes about students, teachers and school events.