Warren County Middle School received a visit from a mobile innovation lab on Thursday.
Parked on the Nunley Stadium track, STEM teachers Joyce Britton and Sarah Lokey brought their classes to the high-tech bus, which traveled three hours from Jackson to share STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) education with students.
Driving Innovation is a mobile program that supports economic and workforce development in Tennessee’s rural communities. The lab features robotics, virtual reality, 3-D printing, drones and a CNC machine to prepare students for emerging jobs.
According to tech coordinator Will Paul, the idea stemmed from CO:mobile, which was originally a school bus focusing on coding.
“The state saw us and said, ‘Hey, we want y’all to do this’ so we got the grant funding, bought a gutted-out RV and started to buy machinery and things to teach kids about STEM,” said Paul. “Our phase 1 is kind of like what we have been doing today, where we get 50 kids that run through the bus in the span of an hour and create an experience they wouldn’t get to have otherwise.”
Each group of students toured different areas inside the bus. They observed examples of achievable products including a dinosaur head made from cardboard and actively worked with some of the equipment like programming a Baxter robotics arm.
“My favorite thing was the laser cutter because it’s the most advanced part and newer technology and it shows you what can come from the future,” said seventh-grader Gavin Blocker.
Added Vivian Adams, “Even the outside of the bus gives you a painting in your mind and shows you what can be unlocked through this experience they are creating for us.”
Paul said they will be debuting new equipment soon. He, along with the other staff members, hope to provide a more in-depth experience for students in the future.
“We are hoping with phase 2 to move things in a direction where we get to spend a day with a classroom of STEM kids so they get to use all the machinery and watch something go from a file, a blank sheet of paper on a computer to a piece of wood in their hand … where they’ve made a design that was etched into the wood that they get to take home,” said Paul.