Tag Archives: technology

Learning, Naturally

Vanessa Scarlett, the science specialist at Montecito Union School, bubbles with excitement at the plans for a 2.5-acre parcel of land adjacent to the school’s bucolic campus.

Over the next two years, the raw space will be transformed into the Nature Lab replete with a pond, plant beds, and even some chickens. For the elementary schoolers the lab will provide both unstructured play and rare opportunities to integrate their learning.

Scarlett gives the example of students building owl boxes. First the students would model their designs in the Innovation Lab, and then use the CNC laser cutter to make those designs a reality. Once installed, they could take motion detecting cameras from the Science Lab and study whether the owls used the boxes and if so, how often.

“There are these two important parts of the Nature Lab,” Scarlett says. “Giving kids freedom in a space that is so magical, and being there with intent and purpose.”

“Research has shown for decades that people learn best by doing. It’s not by sitting and listening to a lecture, or reading a book. It is about doing.”

For Montecito Union’s Superintendent, Anthony Ranii, the Nature Lab is a critical piece of ensuring his students are ready to make positive contributions in a fast changing world.

“When our students become adults, the most complex problems they will have to face stand at the intersections between nature and technology,” Ranii says. “Climate change, wildfires, disease control, waste management, water conservation: all of these require both facility with technology and a deep knowledge of the natural world.”

The organizing force behind the Nature Lab is the Montecito Union School Foundation (MUSF), the school’s charitable arm comprised primarily of parents. The foundation has invested $200,000 in the project thus far, and is looking to raise an additional $400,000 to get it done.

Not only will this latest amelioration further cement Montecito Union School’s status as one of the nation’s premier public schools, but also it promises to seed generations of problem-solving youngsters with deep knowledge of the natural world.

“The world is counting on our students to develop these skills to solve the most complex problems in the world today,” Ranii says.  

Ignite Learning

In 2017, Santa Barbara welcomed a new, exciting and wholly unique museum to its ranks: MOXI, The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation.

Since the grand opening, more than 500,000 visitors, mostly wide-eyed children, have bopped through MOXI’s 17,000 square feet of interactive exhibits. Exhibits like Build It. Test It. Race It. where kids can assemble their own racecars and send them down an oversized track. The builders have variables to play with, the slope of the track and the design and weight of the race cars, which force them to hypothesize and test, both hallmarks of critical thinking and problem solving.

“It’s science plus race cars, which are super fun,” says CEO Robin Gose, clearly jazzed about the exhibit. “And it’s this racetrack on steroids, bigger than anything they have at home, which is really exciting.”

For Gose, her staff and the community volunteers who spent almost three decades dreaming up and making MOXI a reality, Build It. Test It. Race it. and all the exhibits are as much about learning as they are about fun – two inextricably intertwined concepts.

As Gose, who has spent the better part of the past two decades in both formal and informal science education, explains, MOXI is about developing 21st century core competencies for not just its visitors, but also every child in the region.

The Department of Labor predicts that two thirds of all students today will be employed in jobs that don’t yet exist by the time they enter the labor force. Many of those jobs will be in STEM – science, technology, engineering, and math – areas of learning that MOXI is all about.

“What is needed for this generation of children and generations to come are the problem solving skills and adaptive mindset to face new and bigger challenges,” Gose says. “We are going to need critical thinkers and science advocates as we continue to face pandemics, climate change, rising sea levels, and new challenges being thrown at us all the time.”

To get there is all about, as MOXI’s mission says, igniting “learning through interactive experiences in science and creativity.”

“Don’t just read about science,” says Gose. “Do it! Play and discover and open up that world of curiosity and creativity.”

Gose is not only excited about MOXI’s exhibits, but the museum’s new strategic plan. The museum itself, she says, is “a beautiful proof of concept” for its larger goal of serving the entire community. A key goal of the new strategic plan is to engage and collaborate with local schools to bring the kind of science education found at MOXI to every school and student in the region. “We want to do everything we can to provide equitable access,” Gose says. “We are truly here for the whole community.”