The STEM Center—which stands for science, technology, engineering and math—had its soft opening at Berkner High School in fall 2019.
The center is meant to be an extension of the classroom, said Kyndra Johnson, RISD executive director of STEM and innovation. At full implementation, students from Berkner’s 16 feeder schools will use the space beginning in kindergarten.
“We are looking at more than 12,000 kids and a little bit more than 680 or 700 staff [members] in that learning community who will experience STEM education and blended learning in a very unique and uncommon way,” Johnson said.
The STEM Center is the latest addition to Berkner’s in-house STEM Academy, which allows students to study engineering, robotics, aeronautical engineering or biotechnology. That program was expanded to include cybersecurity and STEM management in 2018.
In a Robotics I class, students spend the semester creating robots that can pick up film canisters, navigate around a mat covered in obstacles and raise themselves onto a post.
“They get to design an object to complete a challenge, a real-world challenge, because this is what NASA and other private companies are doing right now,” Robotics I teacher Bernie Gibson said.
The center also includes a space for zSpace technology, a form of virtual reality that allows students to see a 3D object, such as the human heart, and dissect each part of it.
The center was paid for through the latest district bond, approved by RISD voters in 2016. The referendum set aside money for a renovation of the space, which district officials chose to use for STEM-related classes, said Henry Hall, RISD executive director of instructional technology.
“We need to create programs that our students are interested in—that our community needs, as far as workforce,” Hall said.
One of the highlights of The STEM Center is the Immersion Studio, which is under construction but is expected to be complete in the first few weeks of January, Hall said. The round room facilitates a 360-degree virtual reality experience for students.
“[Students] will be able to be deep within the ocean or far in outer space or anywhere that they can think of,” Hall said.
Johnson expects students to be using the Immersion Studio as early as Jan. 21.
The next step for the district is to prepare teachers to use the center and to create a system that gives all RISD students a chance to use the space, Johnson said.