Innovation on wheels: District debuts mobile units for 21st-century learning


Technology is changing the way children learn, and two mobile STEM-related buses are helping to drive the future of science and math education in Sumter School District.

This school year the district has unveiled the Pilgrim's Mobile STEM Explorer and a cybersecurity unit to take 21st-century learning in science, technology, engineering and math with a hands-on approach to all the district's schools.

Year 1 has been an introductory year to the various concepts for all the district's students, according to district STEM Innovation Specialist Leroy Steigerwalt and district Cyber Security Instructional Specialist Aaron Johnson.

The duo visits schools together in the Pilgrim's Mobile STEM Explorer, and while Steigerwalt discusses the foundations of the engineering design process with students, Johnson provides an introduction to cybersecurity and protecting yourself in online gaming and being a "positive gamer."

The unit has also been on hand for more than 40 after-school events at schools to include STEM nights.

Because not every school in the district has a STEM lab, the goal this year has been to ensure all students received a foundation in STEM, Steigerwalt said.

Both men are former classroom teachers and design classroom extension lessons for teachers at the schools to continue teaching concepts throughout the year.

"Our programs will look completely different next year versus this year," Steigerwalt said.

The STEM bus unit features three rotation stations for hands-on learning experiences in coding, programming, robotics and circuitry. The STEM Explorer is equipped with computers, 3D printers, mini-drones, LEGO, robotics and more.

Johnson said the implementation is going in phases.

"It is almost like we are throwing the fish net out now for our students, so we are trying to learn our students first before we go in-depth with the other concepts," he said.

Children today are "digital natives" and have been receptive to the new concepts, they said.

The two men have researched the data and note that discipline referrals are down considerably at a school location on days when they are visiting.

Johnson shared an interesting story about how Millwood Elementary School children did not mind missing recess time for a lesson in cybersecurity.

"A teacher's class was scheduled to come and see me during their recess time, and they came in and were upset about that," he said. "But after I was done with them, they did not care that they missed their recess because they actually had fun with the cybersecurity lesson."

Next school year, both buses will be visiting schools at the same time, and the goal is for every district student to have two sessions with both programs so exposure will be doubled, Steigerwalt said.