Muskegon Public Schools unveils first elementary STEAM lab
February 13, 2023

First graders at Bunker Elementary School were in awe as they walked into the school’s brand-new STEAM lab for the very first time Thursday.

Decked out with new computers, robotic equipment, a 3D printer, and cabinets full of gadgets for hands-on experiments, the $250,000 science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) lab was unveiled to students at the K-5 Muskegon elementary school.

“Woah!” the class of first graders exclaimed in unison as they took in the lab’s colorful artwork and flashy new equipment during their first STEAM class the morning of Feb. 9.

Janell Carr, Bunker’s new STEAM teacher, gave the youngsters a tour of the new facility before presenting them with their first assignment: Breaking off into pairs and using the lab’s new geometric shape kits to build unique shapes out of rods and connectors.

The students got creative during their building time, bending and shaping the rods into letters, shapes and animals, including a spider and an octopus.

Six-year-old Ca’mia Bonner constructed a flower, while Jyaire Hughes, 7, built two spheres that he pretended were a mind-control device. Hughes said the part he’s most excited about in the new STEAM lab is the 3-D printer.

“It was awesome,” he said. “When I grow up I’m going to try to buy one and make Pokémon statues.”

The new lab at Bunker Elementary is one of three STEAM labs the district is planning to construct across its three elementary school buildings. The district is using COVID-19 federal relief dollars as well as bond funding to build the new labs.

“Launching our Bunker STEAM lab is a huge milestone in transforming MPS into a modern and career-focused K-12 educational leader that will be unparalleled in Michigan,” said Muskegon Superintendent Matthew Cortez.

“Research shows the best way to increase STEAM learning and interest while creating equity in math and science achievement is through an immersive, project-based, hands-on environment.”

Muskegon Public Schools is using curriculum from Smartlab HQ for the new STEAM lab, which offers over 400 lessons in digital animation, circuitry, robotic coding, use of data sensors, and simple machines, Carr said.

By the time Bunker students graduate from fifth grade, they will have been exposed to lessons in various systems of technology like mechanics and structures, sustainability, digital communication and more, she said.

“The possibilities that the kids are going to have in here by the time they leave elementary school and head to middle school, it’s just incredible to think of,” she said.

STEAM learning is designed to build resilience and teamwork skills in students, as well as foster creativity, apply technology, and teach ways to solve problems, all while using elementary level content knowledge, according to Muskegon Public Schools.

Part of the reason the district is implementing STEAM labs at all of its elementary schools now is because of the pandemic, Bunker Elementary Principal Okeelah McBride explained.

Students adapted to learning with technology while staying at home during the peak of the pandemic, and schools had to figure out how to accommodate that, she said.

“One of the things we noticed coming back into schools, post-COVID was that our students were a lot more tech savvy than what they were prior to COVID,” McBride said. “We had to figure out a way to keep them engaged.

Carr said she thinks education will need to adapt to technology to keep up with the world.

“This is absolutely the future of education,” Carr said. “I feel like this could lead to a lot of opportunities for other districts in our area that could come in here and check this place out and provide for their students in the same way.”