CSI Lab ‘Turns on Lights’ for Students

26 Sep 2019

The new school year is starting out with new opportunities for area students thanks to the Phelps County Development Corporation and area businesses.

The Educational Service Unit No. 11’s Create, Solve and Innovate (CSI) lab made its first stop at Axtell, where students were eager to experience hands-on learning with fun tools like a vinyl cutter, 3D printer and virtual reality cameras.

The lab will make two-week stops at 13 schools throughout the year, allowing students the opportunity to learn and explore skills that are needed in future careers in the area and beyond.

Monica Boyken, CSI Lab Coordinator, worked with teachers and staff from each of the 13 schools this summer to explain the lab and how it works.

The teachers job in the lab is not to know all the answers but to “turn on the lights” for students, Boyken said.

“The main principle of it all is that figuring it out is a marketable skill,” Boyken said. “Any of our employers would value that.”

Once the lab is set up in a school, Boyken leads students through a short session on safety, and she also spends some time sparking students’ interest by explaining how each of the stations could be used.

“One of the opportunities here is that you are in charge of your learning,” she tells the students.

She also encourages them to collaborate with other students and to use an engineering notebook to record their lab activities.

Boyken said that on the first day the lab was in Axtell, she was pleasantly surprised to hear a crowd of students scrambling to the lab during their lunch break to start exploring.

The CSI Lab contains 10 stations all belonging to one of four themes: Make It New (3D printer, pneumatics kit and air compressor, and a CNC machine), Make It You (vinyl cutter, virtual reality camera and headset), Make It Do (Raspberry PI and MakeyMakey, Spark Fun Inventor’s Kit, robotic arm and Photon IoT kit) and Make An Impact (SparkFun Sensor Kit and Redboard).

In Axtell, the lab will be available before and after school, during lunch and during science classes taught by Darla Steinbrink (grades 5-8 and 11) as it does fulfill the requirements of some of the state’s teaching standards for science.

The lab was modeled after a similar program created by Nebraska Public Power District but was adapted to fit the skill sets being promoted by area employers. Dave Arnold, president of Royal Engineered Composites in Minden, spearheaded the idea locally after seeing the NPPD lab. He enlisted Dr. Greg Barnes, administrator at the ESU #11, to bring it to the future workforce of students in the area.

The CSI lab is designed for 7th and 8th graders, but some schools, like Axtell, will be opening the lab to kids in other grade levels as well.

Platinum sponsors and lab stations they sponsored are PCDC (vinyl cutter), the Phelps County Community Foundation (TBD), Allmand Bros. (robotics), BD (pneumatics) and Landmark Implement (electronic sensors), all of Holdrege; and Royal Engineered Composites of Minden.

Platinum sponsors can display promotional banners in the labs and are encouraged to visit students to offer insight into potential future local careers. Boyken said she will conduct post-lab evaluations at each school, and the program may be modified based on those results for future years.

PCDC Executive Director Ron Tillery said the lab could help in efforts to create a quality Phelps County workforce in the future.

“They are focusing on many of the same high-demand job categories that have been identified for scholarships,” Tillery said of the lab. “The real benefit is the lab is supporting the development of a workforce from within rather than recruiting people.”

The CSI Lab is scheduled to visit Phelps County area schools this winter: Holdrege Middle School, Nov. 11-22; Loomis Public Schools, Dec. 2-12; and Bertrand, Jan. 13-24.

For more information about PCDC or the CSI lab funding, please contact Ron Tillery at Ron@PhelpsCountyNE.com or (308) 995-4148.