CUSD Innovation Showcase highlights student, community contributions to STEM

By Elysse James

At Capistrano Unified schools you’ll find something a bit different — space to create.

The district’s STEM/STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) teams are thinking outside the box when it comes to encouraging 21st century skills that will serve students throughout their lives.

“I can’t think of any job that doesn’t have STEM skills in it,” said Elisa Slee, elementary curriculum specialist for Capistrano Unified. “You have to write, you have to use technology. I think these experiences are important because they show children the application of the skills they learn in the classroom so they actually learn workforce skills early on and are exposed to career options.”

To highlight that effort, Capistrano Unified is holding Innovation Showcases on Jan. 27, 2020 at Capistrano Valley High School and Feb. 10, 2020 at San Clemente High School. The events will display the work Capistrano Unified’s community partners are doing to support STEAM education, showcase student projects and demonstrate students’ STEAM skills, and provide information for parents and students about opportunities in the district.

The event will feature an elementary Maker Challenge prototype showcase, award-winning robot team demonstrations, exhibits from students at all levels, a Sphero demonstration, hands-on activities with community partners (including the Discovery Cube, Child Creativity Lab, Inside the Outdoors, and the Crystal Cove Conservancy), information on the college and career pathways, and more.

“Our teachers work really hard to make sure they are up-to-date with our standards,” said Stephanie Avera, director of educational technology for the district. “We are constantly training in 21st century teaching skills so our students are prepared as well. We have some really hardworking teachers.”

Capistrano Valley and San Clemente high schools both have robotics labs. And all of Capistrano Unified’s 36 elementary schools have an innovation lab — a place where students can go to build, learn, and get creative with donated upcycled materials (provided by the Child Creativity Lab), green screens for video, robots (such as the Codeapillar that teaches basic programming), computers, and more.

“They may be studying something about the California gold rush and so they might act out a scene through history using the green screen technology and the iPads we provide in the Innovation Labs,” Avera said.

The OC Maker Challenge, which will be featured at the Innovation Showcase, highlights the imaginative work elementary school students are doing to invent new things, such as musical tongue depressors or an automated lunch bot that helps kids avoid cafeteria lines.

The district has partnered with local groups such as the Discovery Cube, Inside the Outdoors, Crystal Cove Conservancy, and the Child Creativity Lab to provide additional opportunities for students to learn and grow outside of the traditional classroom model.

Capistrano Unified fifth-graders, for example, take field trips to Crystal Cove state park and assist in restoration efforts.

“Our fifth graders last year had a big part in deciding how the restoration project should go,” Avera said. “They were part of the published report by the Crystal Cove Conservancy. We were excited about that.”

The Orange County Department of Education program Inside the Outdoors sends traveling scientists to schools to do hands-on demonstrations, as well as organizes field trips for about 9,000 Capistrano Unified students to get outside and learn about their environment.

“Both programs all have an element of STEM learning but also service learning, where students learn the concept and engage in problem-based learning about what’s happening locally in their environment, how they impact that, and what action steps they can take to help,” said Lori Kiesser of Inside the Outdoors. “Western Digital described it as ‘applied STEM’, it’s where the rubber meets the road.”

Inside the Outdoors is bringing animals to the Innovation Showcase so that student can get up close with them and learn. The organization has local birds of prey, snakes, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals that help educate.

“You can look at a picture of an owl or a picture of a reptile but it doesn’t necessarily come to life like if you see it,” Kiesser said. “The students are able to meet those animals and understand how the animal fits in the environment and how we all have to live together.”

The Discovery Science Foundation is providing several engineering-focused activities at the showcase. Students can build a pier using only 3-inch by 5-inch cards that must withstand the force of waves, they can use blocks of wood to try to build the tallest possible tower, and they can construct a tin foil boat to carry as many marbles as possible, using engineering and science education to think strategically about how to create these objects, said Laura Schmidl, education director at the Discovery Science Foundation.

“We try to think of the entire pre-K through 12th grade experience,” Slee said. “We even have programs for preschool students. That way we ensure our students are learning science in the classroom but seeing real world connections.”

The Innovation Showcase will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. January 27, 2020 at Capistrano Valley High School and from 6 to 8 p.m. February 10, 2020 at San Clemente High School.

“STEM and STEAM are so important to our future in our country and in our world,” Schmidl said. “They really are the foundations of what allows us to function in our modern life.”

Learn more about STEM programs and the Innovation Showcase by clicking here!

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