“The whole goal really is for us to create a motivating and fun experience for students, so they think about STEM in a new way,” Colvin says. “Then there’s general career awareness: Helping them realize that there are these jobs available to them. They could work in these really cool fields or do these types of things themselves.”
The Mobile Lab Technologies and How They Function
The idea of a mobile unit full of valuable technology may be daunting, especially to those who remember Newton’s first law of motion: A body at rest will remain at rest, and a body in motion will remain in motion unless acted upon by an external force. But the tech in ECSU’s and Learning Undefeated’s mobile labs is secure and, according to Colvin, more cost-efficient than a brick-and-mortar lab.
“It’s a shared resource, so the financial or capital investment can be shared among the school systems, and there are some good models out there for that,” she says. “Maybe you want to build a computer lab, and you don’t have the funds to do it in all of your schools. You could put your computer lab on a mobile platform and share it among the schools in your district.”
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The Learning Undefeated labs include technology such as projection mapping, touch-screen walls, augmented reality and oversized TV screens, among other tech. Students learn about everything from cybersecurity to extraterrestrial exploration. Learning Undefeated’s Explorer Lab includes tablets on which students can engineer a Mars rover. The learning process is game-based, and in addition to building a virtual rover students also learn about Morse code and the surface conditions of the Red Planet.
ECSU’s mobile lab, meanwhile, brings aerospace and aviation lessons to students in North Carolina. It features flight and drone simulators in addition to 3D scanning, 3D printing, coding and more. Rawat says the university sustains and grows the program through grants. “Every time we see a new technology out there the students need to learn, we add that as well,” he says.
While the mobile lab buses can’t remain in a school’s parking lot forever, they help give students STEM exposure when they would otherwise have none. These early introductions can set the tone for a student’s future, and each mobile lab organization works with teachers to help them fan the spark of excitement in learners.