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Middle school tech labs get makeover

Engineering curriculum calls for new equipment

Published: Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014 10:35 a.m. CST
Caption
(Tarah Thorne – tthorne@shawmedia.com)
Tom Campagna (left), District 220's building and grounds director, discusses middle school technology lab plans with Barrington 220 Educational Foundation members. The labs at each of the district's two middle schools are being renovated for a Project Lead the Way-Gateway to Technology curriculum that begins this fall.
Caption
(Tarah Thorne – tthorne@shawmedia.com)
District 220 contractor Greg Stahler, of the Cashman Stahler Group of Lombard, presented blueprints July 30 for new technology labs at the district's two middle schools. The renovation project is scheduled to be complete the first week of August, staff said.
Caption
(Tarah Thorne – tthorne@shawmedia.com)
Barrington 220 Educational Foundation members Kari Frankenberg, Donna Penyak and Kelly Henry (front, from left) toured a vacant technology lab at Prairie Middle School July 30. Barrington 220 superintendent Brian Harris, Prairie Assistant Principal Brad Choate, and building and grounds director Tom Campagna (back, from left) explained what the $530,090 lab renovation project will look like upon completion.

BARRINGTON – Construction isn’t limited to roads this summer.

Barrington 220 staff and contractors have been busy planning and renovating the district’s two middle school technology labs for interactive student learning.

Scheduled to be complete this month, labs at Barrington’s Prairie and Station schools each will include about 60 high-end desktops for computer-aided design, three classroom projectors, 3-D printers, robotics software, a workshop assembly area, student-teacher work stations and a mechanical shop setup.

When complete, the 3,600- to 3,700-square-foot labs, not including computers, will cost about $530,900 for demolition, construction, supplemental technology and furniture, Barrington 220 spokeswoman Morgan Delack said.

The computers are separate from the District 220 One to World initiative, which equips each sixth-grader with a personal iPad and seventh- and eighth-graders with a hand-held PC.

The Barrington 220 Educational Foundation has agreed to fund the nationwide Project Lead the Way – Gateway to Technology curriculum and computers up to $40,000 each year for the first two years of the program. Foundation members said funds have been raised through special year-round events.

Tom Campagna, Barrington 220’s director of building and grounds, said the renovations began right after school let out.

Most of the old equipment and furniture will be used in the new labs in some way, Campagna said, adding that any leftovers will be used in other areas of the district.

Campagna, who oversees most district projects, said he’s excited about the new labs.

“It will create a really good flow for students transitioning from middle to high school,” Campagna said. “I think they’ll enjoy the design aspect of the new curriculum.”

Barrington 220 Superintendent Brian Harris toured the construction site and discussed the new curriculum.

“It’ll be very hands-on,” Harris said. “The students will build a lot and produce tangible products that they’ll be able to see – that’s important at the middle school level.”

Harris said once the students enter high school, the technology curriculum for Project Lead the Way becomes more conceptual. By starting the experience in sixth grade, students will be able to think about technology careers at a younger age and know if lab electives are something they would like to pursue in high school, Harris said.

The 3-D printers are a treat because it was just last year Barrington High School students acquired such a device, Harris added.

Prairie School Assistant Principal Brad Choate said with the new curriculum and labs, all sixth- through eighth-grade students will experience hands-on technology for about a quarter of their year. The students will work in pairs, or teams, with two teachers in the classroom at any given time, Choate said.

“It’ll be a very busy environment, but the curriculum will keep everyone right on task,” Choate said.

Staff said students will work on their own desktop computers for the class period – something they haven’t gotten to do before.

Choate described the former middle school labs as outdated and said the renovation will be the best fit for the new curriculum.

Project Lead the Way organizers said the activity-, project- and problem-based curriculum gives students a chance to apply what they know, develop unique strategies and lead their own learning. Units include robotics, flight and space, DNA and crime scene analysis.

Project Lead the Way is a pre-engineering program once students enter high school designed as a four-year sequence before college. Electives include Introduction to Engineering Design, Principles of Engineering, Digital Electronics and Civil Engineering and Architecture.

Harris said he’s seen the transitional program in the works in other districts and described it as “phenomenal.”

Barrington 220 Educational Foundation member Kari Frankenberg said she hopes the program will keep middle school students, who might otherwise lose interest in math and science, engaged and curious.

About 225 students decided to enroll in the district’s high school program this spring.

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