Bus will bring high-tech mobile learning to schools across the district this fall

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Pau Wilcox, 6, an incoming first-grader at Ridgewood Elementary School, looks at his bracelet light up that he made during a Future Bus activity at the school.Aboard the Future Bus this summer, elementary schoolers used fruit and computer circuits to make music.

The 1989 school bus has been retrofitted with tech activity stations, a power generator and storage space. Now, it's a mobile learning lab overflowing with hands-on STEAM lessons. STEAM is an acronym designating teaching focused on science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics.

"Here's an orange," said teacher on special assignment Jon Samuelson, tossing the fruit to a student.

Other students were busy connecting circuits to squishy produce such as limes and bell peppers.

At Ridgewood Elementary School, students took turns climbing into the colorful, high-tech bus where they worked with "MaKey MaKey" invention kits to connect conductive objects to a computer circuit board.

Once the inputs and outputs were all hooked up to an online keyboard, they tapped on their fruit and joined together in a makeshift symphony.

The students were attending Camp Achieve, a summer learning experience funded and operated by the Beaverton Education Foundation in partnership with the Beaverton School District.

Last week, the Future Bus made the final stop on its summer tour, wrapping up the pilot stage of an initiative that's been in the works for years. Now, the school bus is ready to roll out to schools across the district.

So far, over 600 students have had the chance to "ride" the bus.

During its stops at Camp Achieve, most lessons were unloaded from the bus and set up outdoors.

At one station, students used "littleBits" electronic building blocks to participate in the Future Bus Design Challenge, using circuitry to make fans spin, motors run, and LED lights glow.

"It's great to pass this on to younger generations," said volunteer Tatum Lowenburg, who will be a freshman at Beaverton High School this fall. TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Children climb aboard the Future Bus to learn another challenge at Ridgewood Elementary School.

Volunteers ranging from middle schoolers to college students worked with campers.

"We have this philosophy of kids teaching kids," said G. Bundy, operations manager for the Future Bus. Bundy is part of the district team that presented the idea, reached out to donors, and launched the bus into action.

"This has really been a vehicle for our Future Ready program," said Bundy, who has been a district teacher. "No pun intended."

Along the way, they've had the chance to identify potential challenges, such as how to adapt science lessons for the youngest students.

"For instance, figuring out how to explain how friction works to a kindergartener," said Bundy.

For summer school students at Ridgewood, the Future Bus was just one stop during a busy morning at Camp Achieve, where they also rotated through creative literacy activities, interactive math simulations and physical education.

Students at Ridgewood attended Camp Achieve four days a week for two weeks. Before that, two-week sessions were offered at West Tualatin View and Cedar Mill elementary schools. Some students attended all three sessions, while others attended just one.

In all, Camp Achieve was held at six sites over the course of the summer.

At Ridgewood, elementary schoolers were divided by their ability and grade levels into six groups.

Around a third of campers are incoming kindergarteners who had the chance to get a head start before they begin school for the first time.

"When they go to school, they where know the playground is, where the bathroom is," said Kristine Baggett, executive director of the Beaverton Education Foundation. "They have less anxiety and they're ready to learn."

Camp Achieve helps students build both confidence and relationships with teachers, who are at the core of the programming, she said.

"These are actual classroom teachers who can assess students, adjust to their needs," said Baggett.

Fifth-grade teacher Julie Curtis said the summer program offers a unique opportunity to work one-on-one with smaller groups of kids.

"There's more flexibility to ask them what they want to learn, to meet their needs," she said.

During her final session with the kindergarten group, Curtis asked students to share their favorite memories of Camp Achieve.

"I got to make cool robotic things," said Avery Carter, who is going into first grade, sharing an LED bracelet she made on the Future Bus.

"We got to connect a battery to make it," said Avery. "I like to use it to put light on things."

Teachers have already begun approaching the district team about bringing the bus to their schools.

Whether students are in the middle of a unit on engineering or salmon life cycles, program directors will work with teachers to integrate classroom lessons into the activities offered on the bus.

"It's been amazing and it's only going to get better," said Baggett.

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