Chuck Mullins, 12, assembles a robotic elephant at Columbus High School’s new SmartLab on Thursday. Mullins is among 72 CHS students who applied for the after-school program that focuses on STEM learning. Columbus Muncipal School District Trustee Stephen Jones looks on at right. Photo by: Andrew Hazzard/Dispatch Staff
November 20, 2015 10:25:20 AM
Inside a large, open classroom at Columbus High School, Chuck Mullins and Kayla Patel are building an elephant.
Mullins, a senior planning to study mechanical engineering at Mississippi State University, and Patel, a sophomore with an interest in medicine and engineering, follow along a computer program called "LEGO Mindstorm" that tells them all 251 steps needed to build and program the robotic elephant, which will be able to walk and pick up objects with its trunk.
"I don't know quite how to program it just yet," Mullins said as he connected another piece to his robot beast. "But we'll figure it out."
Mullins technically doesn't have to figure it out. He and Patel are not working for a grade. They are there because they want to be there.
They are in the new Columbus High School SmartLab, a space dedicated to experimental learning in fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.
SmartLab is a space designed by a company called Creative Learning Systems. The space at Columbus High includes stations in alter circuitry, computer graphics, digital communications, mechanics and structures, robotics and control technology, scientific data and analysis, software engineering and 3-D printing. The room is open, with computer monitors and other equipment at stations spread throughout the room dedicated to the respective specialties.
The CHS Smartlab was paid for by a 21st Century Learning Grant worth $165,000.
Columbus Municipal School District administrators and trustees invited the public and local industry leaders to witness the unveiling of the SmartLab Thursday with a goal of getting the community to engage with their students in the new space.
"We don't need any money," board president Angela Verdell told the crowd. "What we are asking for is your human capital."
CMSD is hoping industrial leaders will lend their time to students who are working with the SmartLab, in order to help students get excited about 21st century skills.
It seemed to work Thursday.
Greg Stewart with Aurora Flight Sciences couldn't wipe the smile off his face as he went around the room.
"I'm excited about it," Stewart said. "A lot of the work our company does -- robotics and graphics -- these kids are working on here. It's about them being excited about it."
Stewart said Aurora has yet to partner with CMSD officially, but he hopes to be involved with the SmartLab
Freda Dismukes, the leader of CHS's Freshman Academy, said everyone in the school has wanted in on the action, from the chess club to the football team.
There will be 72 students who get to use the SmartLab after school. Every student in the school had a chance to apply and submit an essay saying why they are deserving, according to Pam Colvin, a special education teacher in charge of the program.
Colvin said 24 students will be in the lab at a time. The lab will be open three days a week -- Monday, Tuesday and Thursday -- and the students will spend from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. exploring whatever subject they desire to create projects and solve problems. The Boys and Girls Club of Columbus will join the students on Thursday. On the two days the students are not in the SmartLab, they will rotate between ACT/SAT prep and enrichment courses, Colvin said.
"It's been super just to see the young people come in and they can come to these programs and they can just jump in," Colvin said.
Colvin received training last week from Creative Learning Systems, but said she has been amazed by how quickly the students understand how to work with animation and 3-D printing.
For parents like Lynn Mullins, the SmartLab is an exciting development. She said her son Chuck is really enjoying working in the lab, and now her daughter can't wait to get into the high school.
"What our SmartLab allows us to do is prepare our students," said deputy superintendent Craig Shannon. "We've got a great team, we've got a great group of students and we've got a great community. What we've got to do is put all of those ingredients together to make sure our kids have a path to success."
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