Grant brings transformative STEM lab to Gifford school

Liam Arsenault and Lucas Whu work on building a submarine from a kit in their science class at Gifford Middle School. PHOTO BY JOSHUA KODIS

A $50,000 grant from Florida Power & Light has allowed Gifford Middle School, the zoned school for barrier island students, to incorporate cutting-edge technology into the newly unveiled “Innovation Station” science wing, a three-classroom dream for students and teachers.

Science teachers John Martin and Dean Marianne Thomas wrote a proposal for two drones, 14 underwater robotics kits, power tools and stocked toolboxes, ViewSonic Boards and 3-D printers.

“Whatever you can imagine, you can design and print,” Thomas said, adding that all the school’s science programs, including the outdoor hydroponics classroom, can spark an interest that might become a career in the sciences.

Now in its fourth year, the FPL program selects five historically under-served K-12 Florida schools to fund. Despite barrier island students being bused to the mainland to attend Gifford Middle, “There are a lot of underprivileged and disadvantaged students,” said Thomas.

“We are thrilled to be able to contribute to creating a dynamic learning atmosphere for the students of Gifford Middle. This classroom transformation represents our ongoing commitment to support education and provide students with the tools they need to thrive,” said Pam Rauch, FPL Vice President of External Affairs and Economic Development.

In the “Collaboration Corner” classroom with the ViewSonic monitors, modeled after a Yale University program called Technology Enhanced Active Learning, “the kids never sit down for the whole 42 minutes,” Martin said, calling the method “vertical learning.”

Eighth-graders Lucas Whu and Liam Arsenault worked intently on their remote-operated vehicle. “It’s really taught me how to study, how to be disciplined. It’s opened my eyes to something I haven’t seen before,” said Whu. “This really helps right here,” he said enthusiastically, adding praise for his teacher, Martin.

“I’m going to be building the motor,” student Joselyn Barba said. Roylisa Ragin and Andrew Nance worked on the stick model. “It’s fun,” they agreed.

Successful projects will compete at the Gifford Aquatic Center in salvage, obstacle and straight-line speed categories.

Photos by Joshua Kodis

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