At Vancouver iTech Preparatory Academy, a STEM-based curriculum was the primary focus from the beginning. However, meeting the needs of local industries and students eager to learn required a more in-depth approach to STEM education.
So, how can a school bridge the gap between students, their future careers, and potential employers in the area while providing a solid STEM education? Erin Lark, Vancouver iTech’s secondary science teacher tells us exactly how:
“From Apples to Airplanes”: Supporting the Needs of Local Industry in Washington State
“This school was built to be a STEM/STEAM school because there’s been such a push in Washington State. We cover apples to airplanes, we do so many different industries here. Every single one of them needs STEM in this state.
Apple growers need complex systems to monitor weather and crop growth. And when you’re designing an airplane that needs to fly through the air safely, you need people to be competent in those practices.”
As important as the technical skills for these industries were, local schools weren’t positioned to educate students to serve these needs with 21st century skills. “But at the same time we didn’t have schools focused on those methods”, Lark explained “so creating a whole school for that is super important and beneficial…”
As Vancouver iTech cemented their program for industry-relevant STEM education, the hopes of replicating the program model grew.
“With the hopes of continuing to move that model forward everywhere. So every child who wants to move forward in a STEM/STEAM career has that experience,” added Erin.
How SAM Labs Makes STEM and STEAM Accessible to All
To Erin, the inclusion of SAM Labs has helped foster interest into STEAM subjects and career readiness to work in technical fields.
“I think SAM Labs. like I’ve said, allows anyone access, so whether you are looking to work in the most technical field and really get specific with what you’re doing with regards to STEAM, maybe you’re specifically going to be in technology and interested in math etc. or if you’re someone looking at a different industry that you need to be aware of it. You can still access that,” says Erin.
According to Erin, SAM Labs also sparked something deeper in students. It allowed them to connect on a human level to technical knowledge. By learning the technical skills through SAM Labs’ unique learning environment, students were able to use those skills to communicate and foster other 21st century skills.
“The best thing I think about SAM Labs is the ability to communicate. I don’t just mean in code etc. I mean the outcomes of your product. In creating an algorithmic path of learning, you are able to use each little tool within to send a message, whatever you are trying to show. If you want something to turn, flip or count, that’s a moment you are communicating. So you’re taking a moment that seems not human but you’re making a very human output with it.”
By transforming the way technical skills are learned, students were learning to see beyond the code or math. They began to see the way their technical input made a real-life impact and gained meaningful career awareness for their futures.
To Erin, that’s a step in the right direction for STEM education across the board.
“That’s the natural place that STEM education is going. So we’ve understood we need all these pieces to serve our industry and we’ve kind of interpreted that as the very clinical, technical things we need to put in place. Now we have such a great understanding of STEM education that we are able to put the warmth back into it. And that’s what I see happening with those tools. Students are able to make that communicative link afterward.”
As Erin Lark has already witnessed in her classrooms, STEM knowledge goes beyond the basic input and output of code. With the aid of SAM Labs, students learn foundational 21st century skills and new ways to communicate with the world around them.
By making the connection between their code and real-world outcomes, students deepen their engagement and understanding while sparking interest and pathways into technical fields and industries. This type of career exploration and preparation for jobs of the future is more important than ever.
Learn more about SAM Labs and how we support STEM/STEAM education while helping to spark innovation in the classroom.
Shaunda Douglas is a former educator with over 15 years of experience in all levels of education. In her free time, she reads, plays with her dogs, watches baseball, and loves a good nap.