Deepening Lewis Middle School students’ interest in coding and engineering — and preparing them for the future

A website. Robotic crafts. Dragsters and windmills. Prosthetics for local students. At Lewis Middle School in San Diego, California, students taking coding and engineering classes are creating all this and more inside the school’s two Inspired by Qualcomm® Thinkabit Lab™ spaces.

The result of a collaboration between Lewis and Qualcomm, the dedicated science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education labs are making a difference. They’re exposing and deepening student interest in coding and engineering and preparing them for the future, raising the school’s profile as a leader in STEM education, and contributing to the region’s development as a center of innovation and educational excellence.

CHALLENGE

  • The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that more than half of the 1.4 million new computing jobs anticipated by 2018 could go unfilled because candidates will not possess sufficient education and qualifications. To fill the demand, more people who are traditionally underrepresented in the computer science and engineering fields must be brought into the equation.
    • 2013 Engineering Occupations'

      • Women 14.8%
      • Latinos 6.57%
      • African Americans 3.64%
  • Lewis Middle School aims to prepare students academically and socially for high school and beyond by providing a rigorous core curriculum that includes a broad range of electives, such as technology, coding and engineering. Committed to instructional technology, the school also provides iPads for all students and netbook computers and interactive whiteboards in all classrooms.
  • Lewis established its engineering program in 2011 to keep up with the main feeder high school and the other middle school in its enrollment area which already offered engineering programs. Using funds and resources from the California Department of Education’s College and Career Technical Education program, Lewis turned a former woodshop space into an engineering lab and created an engineering elective using Project Lead The Way curriculum. The teacher, who is passionate about engineering, took on the new role of teaching the engineering electives and attended staff development at San Diego State University to learn to teach the curriculum.
  • When Qualcomm opened Thinkabit Lab in 2014, Lewis students and teachers were among the first to visit and experience the lab’s fun, hands-on engineering and career exploration activities, led by Qualcomm employees with STEM and teaching backgrounds. Lewis visitors were engaged from the moment they walked in and left feeling inspired, motivated and confident that they had the skills to become engineers.
  • Given the growing number of requests from schools and teachers to visit Thinkabit Lab, Qualcomm launched an expansion initiative in 2015. The goal: to help schools create similar spaces and activities to meet the need for engineering learning experiences. Based on Lewis’ commitment to engineering, design thinking and innovation—and its enthusiastic and proactive leadership and staff—Qualcomm invited Lewis to become a pilot school for the Inspired By Thinkabit Lab expansion initiative.
  • For Lewis, becoming an expansion site would help achieve its goals of incorporating technology and coding experiences into its engineering program and provide ongoing and meaningful STEM experiences that fulfill the school’s vision and mission.

SOLUTION

  • As part of its commitment to Lewis, Qualcomm helped two super-cool and colorful Inspired by Thinkabit Lab spaces get up and running. Instructors from Thinkabit Lab supported Lewis’ leadership team and staff throughout the build-out process. Opened in December 2015, the spaces include:
    • Inspired by Thinkabit Lab - Engineering Lab, complete with computers and other resources for students, is used by seventh and eighth grade students taking the engineering elective. Leveraging district funds, the school repainted the existing engineering lab in bold, Thinkabit Lab-branded hues of blue, aqua, violet, orange and red. There are inspirational quotes and signage on the walls and an array of materials and equipment, such as Arduinos (microcontrollers), servo motors and a 3-D printer.
    • Inspired by Thinkabit Lab - Maker Space, used by sixth grade students taking the pre-engineering and coding electives. A former library computer lab and media room, the maker space was, like the engineering lab, repainted, furnished, equipped and supplied to resemble the colorful, whimsical Thinkabit Lab and teach fun and engaging activities, such as robotics, to students.
  • In addition to an engineering teacher, Lewis hired a coding teacher. This teacher is a former, upper-grade elementary school teacher with a multidisciplinary background. To compensate for a lack of coding experience, the teacher worked with school district staff and reviewed high school Advanced Placement computer science curriculum to write a sixth grade coding curriculum that is now also available to other teachers in the district.
  • Lewis’ leadership team and educators have access to a free, online portal created by Qualcomm to extend the Thinkabit Lab experience to schools, educators and students, regardless of their location. The system contains a wide variety of resources, such as Thinkabit Lab-branded materials; recommended equipment, tools and supplies; videos; lesson plans; and more.

IMPACT

  • Since Lewis’ Inspired by Qualcomm Thinkabit Lab opened in December 2015, a study of the program during the 2015-2016 school year reveals:
    • Principal, students and faculty perceptions about the value of the Thinkabit Lab and collaboration with Qualcomm was positive across grade levels and 
subject matter areas.
    • Thinkabit Lab-inspired engineering and coding activities increased student interest and engagement in STEM and fostered connections between coding/engineering electives and other STEM classes, such as math. Teachers of non-STEM subjects, such as English, also expressed interest in integrating engineering and coding activities into their curriculum and now teachers are working together to develop cross-curriculum STEM activities, using engineering skills in science and vice versa, in addition to regular lab visits.
    • Coding and engineering classes appeared to increase the number of girls interested in these subjects. For example, the afterschool coding club is attracting more girls who are developing an interest in engineering and programming. Teachers credited the engineering activities with motivating girls to pursue science-related courses and fields that they otherwise may not have considered.
    • Lewis’ collaboration with Qualcomm, its Inspired by Thinkabit Lab spaces and the increased engagement of students in engineering and coding activities have raised Lewis’ profile as a school with a notable STEM education program and increased the number of visitors to the school
  • The Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) supports the school and Inspired by Qualcomm Thinkabit Lab spaces by continuing to purchase, install and maintain the resources and equipment in Lewis’ engineering and makerspace environments.
  • Speakers from the local community and parents who are engineers make presentations as part of the Qualcomm World of Work coursework.
  • The engineering lab emphasizes collaboration between engineering and other industries, with the common goal of helping others. In keeping with this 
philosophy, Lewis students have used the lab to create prosthetics for local students with cerebral palsy.

QUOTES

  • “The Thinkabit Lab has made engineering real and empowered our children, allowing them to wonder, to dream and to see their creativity come to life.” – Cindy Marten, Superintendent, San Diego Unified School District
  • “Inspiring and motivating local youth to excel in STEM subjects is vital to building the nation’s brightest workforce right here in San Diego.” – Kevin L. Faulconer, Mayor, San Diego
  • “The enthusiasm of the students [about the lab] makes them want to come to school, makes them want to be inventors. It makes them know that they are successful and that they can work with teams to do problem solving and to come up with new ideas that haven’t been thought of before. And they are looking for ways they can contribute to the world.” – Brad Callahan, Principal, Lewis Middle School

SCHOOL PROFILE

Lewis Middle School San Diego, CA

School district: San Diego Unified School District

Grades: 6-8

Student population: 1,000 (2014 - 2015 school year)

  • 33% White
  • 30% Hispanic/Latino
  • 18% Asian/Pacific Islander
  • 8% African American
  • 0.4% Native American
  • Nearly 50% considered socioeconomically disadvantaged
  • 9% English learners
  • 8% students with disabilities

Recognized as a California Distinguished School in 2001

 

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At Qualcomm, we are focused on building the wireless world of the future, and we want to show students that they can be a part of building that future. Qualcomm Thinkabit Lab is a combination engineering lab, makerspace and classroom for students from all cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. Qualcomm created the lab to provide students with a unique, hands-on STEM experience and to raise awareness of careers they may not know exist. Through Thinkabit Lab, we expose students to STEM concepts and careers that are essential to tomorrow’s workforce, not only at Qualcomm, but in every aspect of building the wireless, Internet of Things (IoT) and 5G ecosystems.

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¹National Science Foundation, 2013