Full STEAM Ahead: STEAM Lab Adapts To Coronavirus

This child appears fascinated by the interactive toys available at the former physical location of Los Alamos STEAM Lab. Courtesy/STEAM Lab

By BONNIE J. GORDON
Los Alamos Daily Post
bjgordon@ladailypost.com

Although STEAM Lab has been forced to close its physical location due to the pandemic, it has by no means stopped serving Los Alamos. They’ve just gotten creative about it.

STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math. STEAM Lab’s mission is to create a dynamic learning environment for children and their families.

Through the use of techniques and skills that range across the perceived gap between the arts and the sciences, STEAM Lab wants to empower students to discover innovative ways of learning and growing and are passionate about igniting the spark of potential in every student.

Former high school math teacher Lisabeth Lueninghoener, one of STEAM Lab’s founders and resident “Robot Whisperer and Math Witch”, wanted a place for her kids to dabble and play.

“I started running classes using robots,” she said. “I met some likeminded people, and the result is STEAM Lab.”

“One problem with our model is that it requires the kids to get together and do a lot of things together,” Lueninghoener said. “One kid at a time doesn’t make sense.”

The obvious move was to go digital, but the way STEAM Lab has gone about it is innovative. For starters, they have dedicated servers devoted to the computer game Minecraft. They offer a wide array of classes and services for kids ranging in age from 4 or 5 to 13.

“We wanted to create a virtual physical space,” Lueninghoener said. “The kids get together digitally. It’s been great for creating that social space they need. Our moderators are teens and the younger kids see them as role models. We wanted to encourage the social nature of Minecraft while respecting the need to be physically distant.”

It’s not just about a good time. The kids learn to program in PYTHON and JAVA. They also practice storytelling and character development and create the look of their monsters and characters.

“Minecraft is engaging and creative and sometimes quite challenging for the brain,” Lueninghoener said. “They learn spatial reasoning and problem solving.”

Whether digital or in person, STEAM Lab quite literally has something for everyone, from toddlers to adults. From Preschool Programing to Art History and Cosplay, integrating the arts and the technical and scientific is what it’s all about.

“The A in STEAM is extremely important to us,” Lueninghoener said. “We want to get robotics kids into art and arty kids into robotics. We want to create a fearless mindset, where all through life, people will be willing to tackle all kinds of different things.”

What’s an example? Robotic moveable wings for your cosplay costume anyone?
Currently STEAM Lab has five or six teachers and they are always looking for more people to share their skills. Whether your skills lie in math, science or art, they want to talk to you about sharing your knowledge. More online classes are planned and things are in the works for physical classes in the fall, assuming that is possible.

“In the fall, we have plans to partner with Family Strengths Network in order to have an outside physical space,” Lueninghoener said. “We’ll be looking for a new space in the meantime.”

STEAM Lab plans to continue offering afterschool care and camps during conference week and other times school is closed. Upcoming for ScienceFest, STEAM Lab will create “breakout boxes”. Some will be physical boxes with locks and others the digital equivalent. For both, solving the puzzle and opening the box is the goal. One more service that is up and running is robot rental. Borrow high tech toys and try them out. There also are items available for purchase.

There’s much more to discover about STEAM Lab. Visit them at lasteamlab.com.

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