We are officially launching our "Replicable Models of Innovation" series. Schools and districts across the nation are developing and implementing models of innovation to increase the number of students who are ready to engage in STEM fields, both in the workforce and as a course of study. The intention of this series is to share replicable and scalable models of innovation in the hopes that they can inspire, support, and help other educators cultivate their own plans.
The Innovation Center of St. Vrain Valley Schools
This week marks an exciting - and major - milestone in the evolution of the Innovation Center (IC) of St. Vrain Valley Schools. The team is celebrating the grand opening of their new state-of-the-art facility in Longmont, Colorado. The new building was funded by a local bond initiative approved by taxpayers in 2016. If you are in the area, please come join the fun! We will be sending a SparkFun team to do a paper-circuit activity with kids.
The Center is a centralized program that serves the district's 32,000 students. The mission of the Innovation Center is to provide students and educators opportunities to foster extraordinary ideas through cutting-edge technologies, innovative projects and industry mentorships in order to solve authentic problems. The IC is a "catalyst, incubator, accelerator, and bridge between education, industry, and our community" (Innovation Center web site, September 2018).
From a SparkFun perspective, there are many components of the Innovation Center that make it a standout program for young people. A few key examples include:
- Lowering the barrier of entry into STEM learning: The Innovation Center is open to all students and reflects the demographics of the school district. Students at the IC receive access to cutting-edge learning opportunities, including client-based projects, industry certifications, and inspiration. (Truth be told, very few of us have access to the types of tools and experiences that are available at the IC.)
- Giving students the chance to solve real problems: At SparkFun, the majority of our community are engineers, entrepreneurs and hobbyists whose passion is DIY electronics. All of these groups like to solve problems. Not contrived problems, but real problems. We are major fans of the fact that the IC provides real problems for students to solve. Often, the IC partners with a local business owner in the the community that has a challenge that goes beyond their technical abilities - they pose the problem to the students at the Innovation Center to solve. This is AWESOME - students are working with clients to build out real solutions!
- Immersing students in the design process: By giving students authentic problems to solve with real tools for actual clients, the IC immerses students in the design process. By developing this mindset in K-12, the IC is preparing students to take on future projects knowing how to question, collaborate, iterate, and provide a full-proof solution.
- Collaborating with higher education and industry: The IC strives to build alignment with both higher education and industry. This ensures that, at the end of the day, the IC is providing students with the skills and knowledge to enter post-secondary studies or be hired into specialized positions. Additionally, this gives business and community partners a voice in the process and the opportunity to be involved with such a future-thinking endeavor (this is how SparkFun originally became an IC partner).
- Providing pathways to career and academics: The courses (see course descriptions) at the IC provide advanced STEM experiences and rigorous learning opportunities. Some of the classes include robotics, AI, unmanned aerial systems, and entrepreneurship. Most of us could not even dream of this when we were in high school! Beyond the coursework, students are often involved in apprentice-type relationships with industry partners and/or earning professional certifications along the way - so when they graduate, they are ready to enter a profession or enter post-secondary studies.
Needless to say, we here at SparkFun are Innovation Center fans. It is our hope, that by sharing a bit about their story and their model, that others will be able to find some nugget to help move their own school and district innovation plans forward.