No offense to math, but it’s safe to say Oregon High School students have never had as much fun learning as they do now in the space that hosts the school’s sprawling STEAM lab.
And with a new STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) class this year – Art Tech Workshop – students interested in disciplines that previously were thought to be far apart from one another are seeing how it all comes together.
It’s all happening in an area that formerly housed five math classrooms before the school was renovated in 2016.
The class was co-designed by art teacher Mike Derrick, who serves as consultant, and tech ed teacher Ryan Stace, who teaches the course. Fourteen students are enrolled in what is essentially a pilot course, with hopes to expand both the numbers of students and teachers.
So far, students have designed and created logos “for a business or personal or whatever they wanted to” and learned “concepts of art and space and relationship and contrast,” using tools like laser engravers, Stace told the Observer last week.
Current projects include using “found” (repurposed) items to create a clock (it doesn’t have to work for a passing grade). The final project has students visiting a junkyard/flea market with a small budget to purchase items to combine into a project.
“It takes all those elements: science, technology, engineering, art and math,” he said. “By then, they’ll have experience with a bunch of tools and they can take that and apply it.”
In the STEAM lab, students are using tools that cost $10,000 and sometimes more, including plasma cutters, laser engravers, CNC routers, 3D printers and more. This summer, the lab added a sublimation printer, which can be used to print images and heat press them onto objects.
“We are continually adding,” Stace said. “We’re lucky the district invested in this space … to have everything accessible.”
The idea for the lab was something Derrick had been thinking about for years.
He began talking with Stace about it when the high school was renovated in the summer of 2016. When the former math wing was relocated, it opened up some room for innovation.
To no one’s surprise, Derrick, an artist by trade, was thinking spatially – and also into the future.
“He thought maybe the class could fit into those spaces and be a really good blend between some of the machinery in our STEAM center and some of our art classes,” Stace said.
For the class, Derrick and Stace requested that students enrolled in the course be at least sophomores, and while there’s no set prerequisites, they were looking for those with a variety of experiences.
“Since it’s such a new class for us and combines so many different areas … we just wanted to throw it all together,” Derrick said. “I was telling Ryan, ‘We would be the perfect poster child for STEAM,’ You get the design, engineering (and) you can see where it all comes in with science and technology, and then welding, that’s a whole new area.”
While students have fun designing and building projects, they’re also learning fundamental lessons about working together, using multiple disciplines, and – as a result of the art component – “learning how technology can open new avenues for self expression,” OHS principal Jim Pliner told the Observer in an email.
And students are also learning real-life skills they can put to use right after graduation. Pliner said the class promotes the idea of “art as a career field,” noting that recent graduates have gone into medical illustration and other art related careers.
In fact, Derrick said when he and Stace look at STEAM-related job opportunities, “we have pages and pages of jobs that are related to what we teach.”
That’s not something to take lightly, he said.
“We’re really hoping to hit on the real critical thinking and problem-solving skills you hear about needing in the workplace,” Derrick said. “A lot of times, schools want test scores; they want results, and sometimes I feel that gets a little bit to the side; that there are jobs out there.”