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Today's Family Magazine

St. Gabriel School’s new Innovation Center allows students to explore, solve and grow

By Nina Polien Light
Sixth-graders at St. Gabriel School in Concord transformed repurposed motors from electric toothbrushes into self-drawing robots.

As part of a science lesson on input and output, fourth-graders used cardboard boxes, tubes, yarn and other everyday materials to design a tool that could pick up a single mint resting on a table. The catch?  Students could only provide initial input into the system.  The exercise involved designing, testing and, if necessary, adjusting and retesting the design until the tool worked.

School pictures were being taken in the gym, so the physical education class moved into a newly created space where youngsters dashed through an obstacle course created from Lego building blocks.  All the while, they used as many prepositions as possible to describe their movements.

And second-graders’ service project involved raising money and designing a buddy bench for the school playground.  Students, who may be feeling lonely or sad, can sit on the new bench to signal they are in need of a friend.  The bench underscores the Catholic school’s mission of “Being Christ every day, everywhere.”

“Our X-STREAM Innovation Center is a place where classroom teachers can take students to do that next phase in research projects that, sometimes, a classroom doesn’t allow,” says Ann Ulrich, principal of the K-8 school.  “It allows the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students to have an additional period of STEM instruction.  One quarter, each grade level can have an additional period of STEM time in the afternoon to extend learning and go deeper than in the regular STEM and tech time.”

X-STREAM stands for Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Art and Math.  The center, which was officially blessed in October, was built to accommodate the school’s burgeoning STEM program expansion, which expanded rapidly after St. Gabriel’s School became the first in the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland to earn the Ohio Department of Education’s STEM School Designation.  It was built using more than $50,000 raised during the school’s 12th annual walkathon last spring.

The center was created by combining and relocating existing areas previously used for STEM projects, morning announcements, video newscasts and a “maker’s space.” Among other things, it is outfitted with two 3D printers, computers, smart boards, iPads, design and engineering tools, virtual reality goggles, magnetic building blocks and robotic equipment, including Osmos and Ozobots.  Osmos and Ozobots are robotic kits used to teach computer coding and design to students in all grade levels.

STEM Coordinator Christine Horne says the state-of-the-art facility is ideal for students competing in local Junior Battle Bot and Battle Bot competitions. With support from volunteers from the Alliance for Working Together Foundation and area manufacturers, the students can spread out to design and build bots (computer programs that mimic humans) to bring to the local contest.  Horne also says the innovation center provides hands-on opportunity for students to perform some of the high-tech tasks she used to do herself.

“Instead of (students) doing 3D creations on the computer and having me run the printer, I can train students to use the hardware as well as the software,” she says.

The innovation center is about more than high-tech toys, Horne insists.

“We got a large donation of fabric samples, so the seventh-graders will learn hand-sewing techniques and will make a pocket notebook,” she points out.  “My goal is to reinvent and be creative.”

For more information call the school at 440-352-6169 or visit