The traveling roadshow: A STEM & CTE mobile classroom experience

The challenge

Helping students expand their knowledge of career opportunities can be difficult if students don’t see those possibilities for themselves.

The solution

School districts and higher education providers have transformed buses, trailers and recreational vehicles (RVs) into mobile classrooms: science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and career and technical education (CTE) labs. Students explore tools, technology and future occupations beyond their wildest dreams.

Shea Zuckerman pulled up to a school in his 72-foot mobile learning lab. Meanwhile, students and educators clamored around to see what was inside.

The Wichita State University Campus of Applied Sciences (WSU Tech) built out the trailer in 2017. Filled with immersive learning materials and technology, the FutureMaker Mobile Learning Lab has already reached more than 20,000 K–12 and adult students all over the state of Kansas.

“So much of what we do is hands-on,” said Zuckerman, director of the CTE STEM lab at WSU Tech. “When we talk about our program, it doesn’t connect the same way as getting students involved. Kansas has a lot of rural districts, so it makes sense to bring the technology to them. A lot of students wouldn’t know it exists otherwise.”

The FutureMaker Learning Lab includes a variety of virtual tools, such as welders, commercial paint sprayers and manufacturing-related items. The lab also carries a set of zSpace augmented/virtual reality (AR/VR) computers which provide students a virtual learning environment to conduct experiments and complete engineer-design challenges.

Mobile STEM labs drive opportunity across the country

  • Eric Frauwirth, administrator of the Bureau of Career Development at the New Hampshire Department of Education, helped turn a high-end recreational vehicle into a mobile CTE learning center for students in K–12 and beyond. Several zSpace laptops allow students to access the AR/VR CTE programming. Equipment stored in the RV includes balsa wood planes, drones, robotics kits, blood pressure cuffs and blood-drawing components.
  • Fort Worth Independent School District operates two 32-foot STEM trailers. They travel to elementary and middle schools to introduce students to STEM careers. Working both inside and outside the trailer, students get hands-on experience with 3D printers and woodworking tools, and they explore career opportunities with zSpace AR/VR laptops
  • Mary Velasquez, project manager for IGNITE in Colorado’s School District 49, and her team converted a traditional school bus into IGNITE: Expeditions, a mobile STEM lab filled with zSpace AR/VR workstations. Driving the bus to schools and events helps reach more students in the district, which spans 155 square miles.

Each educational institution has funded their mobile units through sources that include federal grants, corporate sponsorships and donations.

Hands-on experience sparks learning, career ideas

The mobile STEM units have a big impact on the students who experience tools and technology they’ve never seen before. One student working with a zSpace unit in Texas, manipulating a VR heart, said, “I’m hands-on learner, so this [type of learning] would be good for me.”

For Velasquez, her favorite part of the IGNITE: Expeditions program is seeing the reactions of parents, teachers and students. “There’s a wow factor when they enter the bus. But when they actually use zSpace, there’s that light-up moment that’s the most fun for me.”

These programs provide opportunities and direction to students, and that is most important for the CTE leaders.

“When they finish a session, students have been exposed to a lot of different careers,” said Zuckerman of WSU Tech. “Sometimes there’s a student who thinks they’re not that good at school, or they didn’t know what they wanted to do in life, and right then they realize there are some real options out for them. That’s a great moment.”