April 24, 2017

They walk on flooring designed to alleviate fatigue while standing. The chairs all have wheels for speedy re-grouping, and tables are strategically placed in a multimedia rich environment fit with a HEPA ventilation system, an eye-washing station, surround sound technology, a 3D printer, and multi-purpose lab. BVU's science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) room is completely wireless, making it unique because of the collaboration capabilities, and unique to BVU.

In 2015, BVU received a $500,000 gift from a generous couple to establish an endowment which provides valuable resources and equipment to better prepare BVU education students to teach in STEM fields. But why is the lab created by the endowed gift so influential in creating quality teachers? Dr. John Bedward, assistant professor of education-STEM, asks the students to mimic scientist behavior using technology, but in a K-12 setting. “This approach is a lot different than what you see typically because it's more hands-on and minds-on to be thinking about what you're doing while you're doing it,” says Bedward. He teaches students in three-dimensional teaching and learning— practices of science and engineering, disciplinary core ideas, and cross-cutting themes. “All three are necessary to develop scientific literacy and reasoning skills, so we have to model this behavior in order for teachers to reconceive of their own STEM classroom. This is about advocating what's best for K-12 students, as it's student-centered and student-focused,” he says.

The endowment is multi-faceted, providing this new classroom, scholarship opportunities, and a STEM endorsement. The hi-tech classroom is being used as a prototype for classrooms across campus, K-12 schools, and other colleges and universities. Mackenzie Reed, a senior elementary education major, says, “When I'm in the STEM lab, I feel like the possibilities are endless. I have access to so much, and the screens at each table are so nice. It's easy to present my computer to the entire class.”

“STEM is an integrated space that will provide different methods of approaching challenges because it's so interdisciplinary.”

Dr. John Bedward

Along with learning traditional science theories and methods, there is a coding and robotics course and an engineering design course to compliment the STEM endorsement and uphold state and national standards. “We're trying to do our best to provide as much of a student-timmersive experience as possible. Sometimes just talking about things and a good conversation is sufficient, but the technology here is an enabler to some of the learning students are being asked to think through.” Bedward said that millennials have access to nearly anything because of the internet, but as an instructor, his role is to deliver content and use new technology, enabling him to do more heavy lifting in his classrooms than he could in the past. Bedward explained how the new whiteboards doubling as screens at each table, or pod, allow students to brainstorm and share ideas quickly by connecting them to their individual laptops. The technology in the STEM lab is modular in the sense that it can easily be swapped with other technology, so new tools are always coming in and out. According to Bedward, the intention in building this room was to give it a long shelf-life.

Bedward's motivation for working with these new STEM capabilities is to help future generations solve social challenges in society and work on bigger issues such as climate change. “We have concerns that can't be solved within just one discipline,” said Bedward. “STEM is an integrated space that will provide different methods of approaching challenges because it's so interdisciplinary; we're intentional about incorporating all four disciplines. We'll continue to teach the classical views of science and math, but this STEM approach will now prepare students solely for what's ahead of them.”

Plans for the future include a potential summer residency program for in-service teachers and a mobile lab bringing tools and resources to teachers in Northwest Iowa. With this endowment, faculty, including Bedward, have been conducting a pilot project of sending STEM kits to BVU Online, Site, and Graduate sites so they can access the same information as Storm Lake students do.