Eighth graders build robots in the lab.
Eighth graders build robots in NDP’s Innovation Lab.
Eighth graders build robots in NDP’s Innovation Lab.

STEAM is one of the biggest buzzwords in education today. The acronym, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math, is a frequent topic of conversation among teachers, administrators and parents, who appreciate the value of its interdisciplinary, tech-forward approach to education.

At Notre Dame Preparatory School in Towson, STEAM is more than just a phrase. Throughout the school – and especially in the Middle School’s brand new Innovation Lab – the program is put into action.

In the Innovation Lab, students have the opportunity to use technology in several forms to realize their creative visions. The lab includes HP Sprout computers with 3D scanning capabilities, 3D printers, a hands-on area with workbenches and real tools, and a media lab, from which the students can broadcast. A similar space already exists in the Upper School.

“The lab gives us the space, the technology, the equipment and the resources for them to try their hands at everything from robotics to electronics to broadcasting news stories from production,” explains Mary Agnes Sheridan, a mathematician and who NDP’s 6th grade math teacher and the middle level STEAM Coordinator. Sheridan teaches Innovate & Design Time 3D Printing, one of the classes created to give students time to explore and make the most of the lab.

Working on the HP Sprouts.

Seventh grader Rylan Sachs is currently taking 3D Printing & Engineering; her first project involved creating a custom cookie cutter.

“We used this website called Cookie Caster,” she says. “We could upload our own image and trace it or redraw it. I did a Nike sign. We’re going to print them out and look at them and make actual cookies.”

In 8th grader Audrey Sanft’s Robotics class, she and her classmates are exploring the building blocks of the technology itself. In 7th grade, Sanft and her classmates took classes in computer programming, during which they designed their own games and programs. This year, they’ll learn code in the context of robotics.

“I’m really looking forward to getting to work through everything – trying a little 3D printing and a little on the Sprouts and in the workspace and with digital media,” she says. “Trying out everything because we have the opportunity.”

Getting hands-on with robots.

In that Robotics class, students start with a basic robot build, then they have the freedom to create something of their own design.

“The space and curriculum allow the girls to learn the skills then give them the space to apply those skills where they’re interested,” says Nicole Acaso, an NDP alum with a degree in mechanical engineering from University of Notre Dame. Acaso is the assistant to the middle level STEAM Coordinator and teaches classes in both the middle and upper schools.

“In Robotics, we’re starting out with the basics of how these pieces are put together – how it works. Then they’ll be able to build robots on their own. We let them go with what interests them,” she adds.

In the Innovation Lab, the girls are gaining knowledge and skills that will be built upon during the rest of their years at NDP – and beyond.

“The concept behind the lab was in preparing girls to pursue science and math. To make it a place to create, invent and bring ideas to life,” says Sheridan.

Notre Dame Preparatory School is a Catholic, independent college prep school for girls, educating just over 800 girls in grades 6 through 12. For more information about NPD, please visit www.notredameprep.com.

Kit Waskom Pollard is a Baltimore Fishbowl contributing writer. She writes Hot Plate every Friday in the Baltimore Fishbowl.

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