The iINNOVATE program gives elementary students hands-on experience with coding, robotics, and 3D printers
A little more than a dozen first-grade students sat in a group on the floor of a classroom at Sinsheimer Elementary School in San Luis Obispo on Tuesday morning.
“What animal are we looking at?” asked their teacher, Jessica Keach.
“Giraffes!” the young students exclaimed as they watched a pair of the African animals through immersive virtual reality goggles. The first graders also used the VR goggles to see octopuses camouflage themselves to avoid their predators and learn how crocodiles’ tough, scaly skin can protect them from most bites.
Earlier that morning, a class of fifth-grade students used the same technology lab to create computer codes that would dictate a robot’s movements, create stop-motion videos with clay figures, draft intricate designs that a laser cut on wood panels or plan the next item they wanted to construct with the 3D printer.
The immersive iINNOVATE Lab at Sinsheimer Elementary is one of 10 across each San Luis Coastal Unified School District’s elementary school in the county. It’s part of a new initiative funded through the district’s education foundation. The iINNOVATE program started during the COVID-19 pandemic, and students picked up kits to take home with directions on how to build light circuits or program a robot. That program was honored by the state’s Superintendent of Public Instruction as a 2022 California Pivotal Practice Award recipient.
Now, about 3,700 students in kindergarten through 6th grade and 120 teachers are participating in the program.
“It’s tied to the academics that they would normally have, but really doing it in a different, more creative; hands-on way,” said Sara Garcia, a teacher on special assignment at the district who helps lead the iINNOVATE program. “We’ve also heard from the industry of what they want for their next workforce — and it’s being collaborative, it’s being technologically savvy, but also (knowing) how to think outside the box.”
Garcia added that students learn basic concepts in the iINNOVATE lab — such as the difference between a solid, liquid and gas — but in a completely different way than traditional methods. For example, a student may receive an item and then have to code a robot to move to a square identifying whether that item is a solid, liquid or gas.