By LAURA QUEZADA News Review Staff Writer–What would you think about a place where kids K-12 have so much fun, they don’t realize they are learning? And many adults may think, “Where was this when I was a kid?” Let us introduce you to STEAM – Science, Technology, Engineering, ART, and Math.
This new family resource, STEAM Labs, Discovery Center and Makerspace, is located next to Lugo’s Grill at 428 Drummond Avenue. It has recently been added as an approved vendor to Heartland Charter School.
Folks are familiar with STEM, (all of the above without art), “STEM was a pretty popular phrase for many years and it still is,” says Owner Dave Reynolds, an engineer on the Base, “But, in a lot of circles, they realized that excluding the arts from science and engineering was actually a bad thing because there’s a lot of creativity and innovation that comes from that creativity. That left brain side of thinking, and so that’s why they added the A.
“The reason this place exists is because I’m transplant, I’m not from around Ridgecrest originally. We moved here a number of years ago, and as my kids were getting older, they got involved in sports through the City League. It is great, but I’m an engineer by background and I loved science and engineering. I wanted my own kids to be able to do extracurricular things like that, but nothing existed.”
Reynolds was ready to roll out a Makerspace which one finds in larger metropolitan areas, he says, “A place for people to gather and take a robotics class, or build with Legos, or do a chemistry experiment.” The launch date was scheduled for April 1, 2020; which we all know by now was not an optimum time to start a new business as it was the height of the pandemic.
He held onto the space and just waited it out, he explains, “We were just kind of in hibernation.” He had a soft opening this September and now is ready to roll out some activities. October offerings are $10 per hour and include Project Colonize, a space exploration club and Egg Drop 2.0, a learn, design, build challenge (drop an egg from a height and have it stay intact.). Reynolds’ imagination was sparked during an Egg Drop challenge when he was in Middle School. He remembers the joy of of thinking creatively. And, yes, his egg did not break. “That’s an example of the things that I want to replicate here. Forget the homework part. That’s essential, and they learn that in school, which is great. But I want this to be a place where you get that spark of creativity of excitement about learning something new. The secret is making learning fun. And kids just soak it up.”
The lab is off to a good start with lots of supplies and he will add more as needs demand. He describes his current materials, “I was trying to find a variety of things that are related to STEAM subjects. So things from being able to do crafting, art making kind of tinkering stuff.”
He gestures to colored pencils, paper, different kinds of colorful markers, hot glue guns. “That box over there in the little plastic containers is Arduino.” For older kids it is for Robotics and electronic engineering.
He demonstrates the Matatalab which introduces younger children to coding. “ It’s an early introduction into coding, because it is a visual coding.” It looks like a board game, but it has a tall end which houses a camera and a separate board which has a little robot car. “There’s a camera in here, a photo sensor, that will tell what you put on the board here. What this does is introduce children into that logic sequencing at an early age and it’s easier because you’re using visual tiles as the commands instead of trying to write code. This one says to the little robot, ‘Go back three times, and then turn right.” So that’s what the little robot does when I hit play.” He elaborates, “Computer programming follows a pretty standard logic flow – a sequence of commands do certain things. This kind of knowledge can transfer from anything from data science to web design to video game programming, all of that.”
One side of the room has a bunch of cardboard boxes. No, not recyclable trash, but material to take fort building to new heights. Reynolds has simple tools that cut cardboard, but not fingers, punch holes in cardboard and then huge screws that connect two pieces together.
A popular resource is “The Lego library where you come and build it. Take your picture with the Polaroid and take that home and then put the Legos back. Take it apart and the next kid can come in and build it again. We keep adding and rotating sets so you get the fun of building without the pain and suffering of either buying it or building it and it sits on the shelf and never gets touched again.”
Reynolds is hiring. “I’m trying to arrange for people to lead engagements (class sometimes sounds a little too formal) to help offer projects and opportunities for children. To experience and learn anything, really. I’m not asking for people to have degrees or anything. It could be a passion or a hobby. If they want to come in and share it, then we would love to host it so we can act as kind of a venue for people in the community who want to share their passion. Music and dance fall under the art piece. I’m trying to connect people with knowledge and passion with the children and families who want to absorb it.”
You can reach Reynolds via Facebook or his website. https://www.facebook.com/rcsteamlabs; rcsteamlabs.com