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Vancouver schools’ Maker Mobile a tech-forward spin on learning

Vancouver Public Schools’ newest (and greenest) bus may not be able to fly to the rainforest or travel through your cardiovascular system — but it’s helping kids do pretty magical things nonetheless.

The Vancouver school district late last year rolled out its “Maker Mobile,” a sort of traveling, high-tech craft room for students. It’s building on work that the district’s instructional technology department has been doing for several years, but packaged in the form of a retired school bus wrapped in an electric green package.

“Like the Millennium Falcon, it’s not much, but it’s got what counts,” said Eddie Sawyer from the instructional technology department.

Zach Desjarlais, the district’s director of instructional technology, said the district has designed a series of lessons that supplement what teachers are already doing in the classroom, but with a tech-forward spin. The bus is loaded up with green screens, tripods and other devices, and it is sent on the road to elementary schools around the district. Previously, individual district staff loaded up their own cars before heading on the road, a logistical headache that was nowhere near as cute.

“You have a driving billboard,” Desjarlais said.

Students at Peter S. Ogden Elementary School were greeted by the Maker Mobile on Wednesday, and they tried their hand at making their own stop-motion films. Using small clumps of clay, students in Natalie McCarstle’s fourth-grade class designed flowers, planetary systems and snowmen, snapping dozens of photos on their iPads to make short films.

“It’s engaging in a simple way,” Desjarlais said. “It’s nothing big or over the top.”

At her desk, 10-year-old Hailey Arriola formed a piece of brown clay into the shape of a doughnut, taking pictures as an imaginary outsider gobbled it up.

“It’s kind of stressful, but it’s fun at the same time,” she said as she aimed her tablet at the clay confection.

McCarstle said the traveling curriculum gives students a chance to try new things, while incorporating technology into their learning. This lesson, in particular, emphasized the idea of change over time, McCarstle said, and how, even if you can’t do something perfectly the first time, you can get there in the end.

“You’re starting with one form and changing into another,” she said.

That’s intentional, Desjarlais said. The Maker Mobile curriculum is designed with state standards around educational technology and social learning in mind.

Axel Marcelo Reyes, 9, seemed to understand that lesson.

“Finally, a dinosaur,” Axel said as he put the finishing touches on his tiny orange sculpture. “Or something like a dinosaur.”

Still, it’s not perfect, he said.

“I messed up his tiny legs,” he said, moving his dinosaur across the desk. “They’re somewhat chubby.”

But it’s good to keep trying — even with chubby legs.

“Stay positive,” he said. “It’s not good to be negative.”


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