On a sunny afternoon at Weehawken High School, several students were using math to figure out a balloon-powered car, while Tyler Williams and Angel Vives were waiting for their designs to be 3-D printed.
The two 14-year-old freshmen who hope for a future in technology – one as a computer programmer and the other as an engineer – decided to pass the time designing keychains.
“This is our first project ever, second day with [the technology] and it’s pretty easy to use,” said Tyler.
“Yeah, I like it. I’m making myself a key chain just because I can,” added Angel.
The highly-tech classroom is part of the high school’s new 1,500 square-foot STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics) lab which was unveiled this past Wednesday, Sept. 16 for the new school year.
For those new to 3-D printing, also called additive manufacturing, it entails the process of making three dimensional objects out of metal or plastic from a digital file.
In addition to a total of three 3-D printers, the lab features four desktop computers, 16 laptops, and an interactive SmartBoard.
“This technology shows them how the concepts they learn in the math classrooms and science classrooms can be used to solve real world problems…” – Leigh Ann Murduca
“This technology shows them how the concepts they learn in the math classrooms and science classrooms can be used to solve real world problems or make real world designs,” said Leigh Ann Murduca, who is entering her fifth year as a math teacher at Weehawken High School.
How was it possible?
The Weehawken School District Educational Foundation received $80,000 in donated money from community members in the past year or so to fund the new STEAM lab. The Weehawken Board of Education President Richard Barsa also credited the milestone to Mayor Richard Turner, local parents and the Board of Education.
“We are starting out with a bang in the foundation’s first bequest of the STEAM Lab,” said Barsa, “but it’s just the first of many towards our goal of making the Weehawken school system the finest in the country.”
Barsa noted, during the unveiling ceremony, that Weehawken Superintendent of Schools Dr. John Fitzsimons was also a key player in the efforts to create the labs.
The district has also made some recent changes to the curriculum including re-designing the classrooms as interactive learning centers, adding Spanish language instruction at the elementary level, revising class duration to last 56 minutes versus 40, and re-purposing the education of disabled students.
The high school will also expand the Interscholastic Athletic Program to add cross-country, track & field, and tennis teams.
Ceramics, fashion, theatre and more
Exiting the high school’s new STEAM lab, one doesn’t need to look far to find the new art room which is directly next door.
“There’s a real synergism here between the science, technology, engineering, and the art because when you think about good engineering…there’s an aesthetic to it,” said Superintendent Fitzsimons. “Often they’re in competition [between] the hard academics and the art. This is a real nice blending of both.”
The new 3,200 square-foot art room will include a ceramic studio and student gallery – providing students with hands-on learning on pottery wheels and ceramic kilns.
“It’s been an amazing transformation, if you look around there’s before pictures on a lot of stuff. This room has been very underutilized and now I have so much more [like] costume design area where the kids can build,” Elizabeth McParland told The Weehawken Reporter during a tour on Wednesday.
McParland, who has been working at the high school for the past eight years, instructed students on achieving optical illusion on canvas during the tour using the classroom’s new SmartBoard.
The high school will also offer new courses such as Costume Design, Fashion Design, Arts and Crafts, and Theater Arts and Drama courses – with the chance to learn about production, playwriting and acting.
“We took a two-pronged approach to improving the already exceptional education that Weehawken students receive by making substantive upgrades in curriculum and facilities,” added Fitzsimons. “These improvements are just the beginning; we have a lot of other exciting plans in the works.”
Steven Rodas can be reached at email@example.com.