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Lab aims to encourage youth to pursue Mitchell tech industry

November 12, 2018

MITCHELL, S.D. (AP) — All of it is possible due to the Smart Lab at the Mitchell Middle School, which is now fully implemented after receiving an additional $25,000 in grant money from America’s Farmers Grow Rural Education program, sponsored by Monsanto.

Principal Justin Zajic started looking into replacing the industrial technology course last December and put together a committee involving the Mitchell Area Development Corporation, Toshiba, Muth Electric, Mitchell Technical Institute and other community members, the Daily Republic reported.

“We discovered we were having problems getting people into these major tech industries that we have here in Mitchell, so we brainstormed on how to grow locally. We wanted to look at curriculums that would put our middle schoolers on the right path to develop skills for these industries,” Zajic said.

The program offers a combination of curriculum and assessment, hardware and software. The classroom is what used to the former woodshop, and one will not find a teacher standing in front of the class lecturing the students. Instead, autonomy is encouraged and collaboration among the students is the norm.

“The students come in and set a goal to create or make something. They have to complete the goal and then we reflect on what they have worked on,” math teacher Sara Stelke said. “I am actually considered a facilitator in the Smart Lab. Our kids observe who has done what project and we have a rule called ‘three before me,’ that teaches them to interact with each other and exchange what they have learned among themselves.”

Students interested in coding can explore the world of programming in a game setting.

“You have a character on the screen and the kids have to write code using a diagram and make it walk over the screen,” Zajic said. “It’s very introductory, but then as you dig deeper it goes into how to code an application or a game. Hopefully we will have some kids from here that start designing a new school app for us one day.”

The kids also learn to work with user manuals, do research online and gain valuable problem solving skills.

“It helps children learn how to do stuff on their own and help others build their confidence. Every day, you are exploring something new and learning more every single day. I think it’s a really good knowledge builder,” said student Brooklyn Smith.

Every sixth-grader can register for the exploratory course that covers about three or four modules and lasts a quarter of a semester. The eighth-grade program is offered as a more in-depth elective and lasts two quarters of a semester.

“If everything goes as planned, we should be able to get kids interested in certain aspects of this program into high school classes, which will put them into college classes either at MTI or others. Hopefully, these kids will then come back to the Mitchell area and work here locally,” Zajic said.

The school had been awarded a state grant of almost $80,000 for its Smart Lab in February and received the additional $25,000, sponsored by Monsanto, shortly before school started.

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Information from: The Daily Republic, http://www.mitchellrepublic.com

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