By Don Bradley
Inside the large virtual reality room at the newly opened IDEA Space KC, most of the noise came from students at the Esports (gaming) stations.
In another part, the quieter part, Lyric Lewis, a Grandview middle school student, slowly, carefully, rotated the digital image of a human heart she and her partner designed. To scale, all parts labeled. Then she strapped on an Oculus headset and grabbed two controllers.
“Now, we’re going inside,” she said softly.
And in we went. Through the pulmonary artery and on deeper for a close up view of what makes this thing tick. And, theoretically, what might make it not. So, this could be cardiac technology?
Lyric and Za’Niya Kearney smiled at the possibility.
Watching was Joel Stephens, a virtual reality teacher. All around him, students worked in robotics, artificial intelligence and drones.
“This place is amazing,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like it. They’ve been here three days and look what they’re doing.”
IDEA Space KC was started by The Barstow School to teach science, technology, engineering, arts and technology (STEAM) to K-12 students from school districts all over the metro area. Part of the goal is to help children regain learning lost to Covid.
The 32,000-square foot center at 12200 State Line Road, the old HyVee site, is the first of its kind in the Kansas City area. It opened in July for an inaugural summer camp with 70-100 students daily. Up next is in-school sessions from partnering school districts and after-school instruction. Home-school students are welcome.
Districts will cover the costs for students to attend. Families who wish to send a child on their own would pay a fee, but scholarship dollars are available.
Other areas of instruction include digital video production, furniture design, 3D printing, woodworking, electronics, metal working and something calIed Invent It!
“This is about preparing students for what the workforce will need,” said Kellye Crockett, IDEA Space director.
Grandview School District is already on board. Emily Brown, the district’s professional development director said students are being exposed to new career paths.
“IDEA Space is the essence of real-life learning in teaching our students how to endure through a challenge and conquer it,” Brown said.
The place is equipped with state-of-the-art tools and equipment to study four key areas: skilled trades, engineering, advanced manufacturing and computer science.
Crockett told about a summer class that had kids designing machines to clear trash from the ocean floor. One boy, a fifth-grader, said the machines would be worthless without maps of the ocean floor and that’s what he wanted to do–draw maps.
Actually, he said he wanted to draw maps for NASA. Crockett told him that would make him an astro cartographer.
“He smiled,” Crockett said. “Now he knows there’s a name for what he wants to be.
“That is why we exist.”
STEAM derived from STEM, a term going back to the 1990s. At first, there was pushback when arts was added to the hard science mix. But proponents said the inclusion of arts would provide more and better ways of problem solving and displaying data.
Charles Negre, a 19th century photographer, is often used to make the case. He said: “Where science ends, art begins.”
Barstow president Shane Foster probably wasn’t thinking of Negre in 2018 when he drove past the old HyVee building on State Line, but not long after he told his board he wanted to buy a closed grocery store and turn it into a STEAM learning center.
Four years and $8 million later, his idea became The Dan & Cassidy Towriss IDEA Space KC. Barstow, a south Kansas City private school, stresses the center is committed to diversity and open to all students throughout the metro area and beyond. That means breaking down barriers, including the old “girls don’t do that.”
Lisa Tulp, Barstow’s marketing director, remembered wanting to take shop class when she was in school.
“They told me to take home-ec,” she said. “I would loved to have known how to work that wood lathe.”
Crockett added that even when girls do break norms, they often face extra challenges.
“For a 5th grade girl, if she doesn’t have a good experience she’s not going to pursue that field. And it doesn’t matter how good her school program is,” she said.
“Here they learn you do fit, you do belong.”
Cassie Banka, a Barstow alum who now teaches at IDEA Space, said she always liked hard sciences but didn’t pursue those fields. Then in college, she helped her boyfriend with the math part of his engineering studies.
“I know now I could have done that,” she said.
“This place could have changed my life.”
For more information, go to ideaspacekc.org.