FAB Lab: HRVHS students create STEM classroom on wheels

Dylan Trainer, a sophomore and member of Men In Green, gets the new Sphero robots ready for the FAB Lab’s Cascade Locks debut.

Photo by Trisha Walker
Dylan Trainer, a sophomore and member of Men In Green, gets the new Sphero robots ready for the FAB Lab’s Cascade Locks debut.

The newest science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) lab in the Hood River County School District isn’t your traditional classroom.

It’s a mobile workshop complete with robotics table, 3D printer, laser cutter, and CAD and CAM software. And it’s coming to a location near you.

Jeff Blackman, Hood River Valley High School STEM teacher, and his students took an old school bus donated by HRCSD and have transformed it into a space intended to bring STEM education directly to students.


Corbett Blackman, left, a sophomore and member of A05 Annex, shows the new Champion Tool Storage boxes made specifically for the bus.

“The idea was to bring technology to the elementary schools that don’t have access to this stuff,” said Blackman. The lab made its maiden voyage to Cascade Locks Elementary on May 25, and students were still working hard the day before on the finishing touches, like installing plating and light covers, washing windows, and getting the bus cleaned up and ready to go.

Schlosser Machine Shop donated the diamond plating inside the bus, and Champion Tool Storage, located in Odell, custom-built the storage cabinets. Students created the “Sistine Chapel of Robotics” on the ceiling to show the evolution of technology, said Blackman, culminating in the final image of a robot hand and human hand touching.

Blackman’s students have created lesson plans to teach STEM concepts using Sphero robots. Traditionally, First Lego League (FLL) robots are made out of Legos, but corralling all of those pieces posed a potential problem, said Blackman.

Sphero robots are small, round and are programmed using iPad apps.

“(Students will) program the robot to try to get it through a maze,” said Dylan Trainer, sophomore and member of the high school’s Men in Green robotics team. The robotics table inside the FAB lab is around 4-feet by 8-feet, and two-by-fours will be positioned to make a maze. Students must then figure out how to get their Sphero through the maze, programing the different stops, starts, accelerations and turns on the iPad, he said. Sensors in the robot help steer it in the right direction.

“We’re teaching programing and engineering, and using empathy in product design,” said Blackman. “This Sphero is your friend — who doesn’t have arms or legs. You want your friend to be self-sufficient. Maybe to go to the grocery store. So you need to make a product for your friend, or for the grocery store, that will help your friend.”


The “Sistine Chapel of Robotics” decorates the bus ceiling.

On May 25, a similar bus from Beaverton met the FAB Lab at Cascade Locks Elementary; the Beaverton district wrote a grant for the Cascade Locks school to receive a set of Lego robots and was set to deliver them to the students. With both buses on campus, Cascade Locks students were able to tour the labs and take part in the Sphero programming project.

The FAB Lab will be on display and ready to tour during the STEM Fair in downtown Hood River on Friday, June 1 (see B1 for more information). Blackman said the bus will also be used during HRCSD’s migrant summer school.

Next year, Blackman will focus on getting programs and projects fine-tuned by bringing the lab to various Hood River County locations, including elementary schools, Blossom Fest and Harvest Fest. The year after that, he hopes to take the lab Gorge-wide.


Blackman has found a few local businesses to sponsor the bus and its projects, but is looking for more. Sponsors will have their names placed on the windows, which will be visible anywhere the bus is parked.

His hope is that sponsors will help fund projects related to their respective businesses to tie learning into real-world scenarios.

“Kids need to have project-based learning, but who pays for the projects is the problem,” Blackman said. “Even a small project that costs $1 — if you have 150 kids, that’s $150.”

To become a sponsor, contact Blackman at Jeff.blackman@hoodriver.k12.or.us.

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