Eight-year-old Owen Randall sat at a computer in Heather Gibson’s STEM lab at Prairie Wind Elementary on a Friday morning, clicking through various screens with instructions on how to build a small motorized windmill out of Legos.
One might marvel simply at his skills navigating the computer’s prompts, considering how his feet dangled from his chair unable to reach the floor, but even more impressive was his young mind grasping science, technology, engineering and mathematics concepts with relative ease.
Problem-solving happened in real-time as he worked. The turbines of the tiny windmill were to be made of green Lego building blocks, but there happened to be a few types of green pieces. Instead of guessing at which was the correct one to use, he reached his finger to the screen, touched the drawing of the green Lego and counted the tiny holes in the piece. Then he dutifully counted the holes on the physical green Lego piece in his hand. He’d been right all along.
After a quick bit of troubleshooting when his windmill arms wouldn’t turn like they’re supposed to, Gibson informed Owen that the computer he was using had been on the fritz, and perhaps he’d have better luck one computer over. He moved, worked his way back through the same steps and voila! The arms spun. And just like that, a second grader had made a working windmill.
Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, Millennials and Generation Z, get ready for an uncomfortable truth: Elementary kids today can do more than you could at the same age — and perhaps more than many of you at your current age. Don’t worry; it’s not your fault. These kids today, especially those coming of age in the Campbell County School District, have a lot more accessible to them than did students even five years ago. The increased accessibility for students is because of the district’s push for STEM labs and early adoption of computer science standards.
Ahead of the curve
Computer science was the most recent addition to the collection of subjects and skills thought to be essential for a well-rounded education in the state of Wyoming.
Known colloquially as “the basket of goods,” the collection of skills would seem incomplete without computer science in the interconnected and digital world into which these young people will mature. Computer science represents the first addition to the basket since the concept was introduced in the 1990s, and that addition didn’t officially happen until the 2018 legislative session.
The bill required the State Board of Education to have a final version of computer science standards in place by Jan. 1, 2022, and schools across the state to have the standards implemented by the 2022-23 academic year. The board, ahead of its deadline, approved the standards on Nov. 22, 2019, and Gov. Mark Gordon approved them Feb. 4, 2020, making them effective.
Samantha Burr, a professional development specialist and STEM curriculum facilitator, said the local school district was ahead of the curve when it came to implementation.
“We started the work on these prior to that,” Burr said. “Being an innovative and technology-forward district has always been something we’ve prided ourselves on, so we already had these wonderful things in motion that really helped us.”
High school offerings had long been part of the curriculum in the county, but where Burr said the real change came was at the elementary level.
“All 17 elementary schools now have a STEM lab with a full-time STEM/tech facilitator,” said Brandon Crosby, the district’s director of curriculum, assessment and professional development.
Classroom teachers often accompany their classes to their weekly hour-long STEM sessions.
At Prairie Wind Elementary, STEM lab/tech facilitator Heather Gibson said she always begins her work by consulting with classroom teachers. One might say students would benefit from activities to supplement a new skill being taught in the classroom, so Gibson would develop projects to fit that requirement. Others may say they want a STEM lab session to be completely different from the classroom. In those cases, Gibson has the freedom to choose.
“I don’t have to restrict their builds or creations to any one thing,” she said. “It can just be robotics.”
This early exposure to computer science standards emphasizes that what’s really important is not proficiency on the latest and greatest computer, but rather a new way of thinking. It’s a way of thinking that is beneficial regardless of what field a student eventually goes into later in life.
“Really, what it comes down to is that computer science is all about that problem-solving and computational thinking aspect, and that does not have to happen on a computer or even a device of any kind,” Gibson said.
That sort of thinking, often part of what are called 21st century skills, opens up a world of possibilities for students.
“I think the opportunity to show students how STEM careers are not just being a computer programmer,” Burr said. “In the drone unit we’ve developed, we have a local rancher who uses a drone to number his cattle. We have a real estate agent in town who use drones to survey and take pictures of their property.”
The district is adjusting to the relatively recent finalization of its computer science standards in ways that look different from many other Wyoming districts because it’s been a part of the curriculum for so long here.
“We’re not scrambling; we’re perfecting,” Burr said.
The district has embraced its role as a leader in the state and offers expertise and ideas to other districts. Whether those districts can pull off such strategies in their own schools remains to be seen.
“We have people coming to us asking, ‘How do we do what you’re doing with students?’” Burr said. “It confirms all of the hard work and labor that goes into creating this type of learning for students.”
The challenges for the district are of the good sort and quite different from those of a district just trying to stand up a computer science curriculum for its schools for the first time.
“At the secondary level, with this being added to the basket of goods … we do anticipate a huge increase in interest from students when they see that this can be an option on that path to completing high school,” Crosby said. “With that, we might have to look at expanding our offerings. And that’s a luxury for us to have. When you have to have a conversation about how to provide more opportunities for kids because of what we have in place, that’s great.”
‘We don’t even realize it’
A class of Prairie Wind sixth graders was recently using time in the STEM lab as an opportunity to work more deeply on the concept of calculating surface area. They’re using Ozobots, tiny, wheeled robots that teach students how to code by doing a bevy of neat tricks that make the task a little more fun than it would ordinarily be.
Two students, Payton Worthington and Caden Shear, had created a course over which an Ozobot would drive in a very specific order. At various intervals on the course, the bot would pass a “net,” a drawing of a 3D shape like a cube or a rectangular prism that had been unfolded, so to speak, to show the shape as a flat 2D figure that makes calculating surface area much easier.
Worthington, 12, and Shear, 11, had 3D shapes of different sizes affixed with seemingly random letters. The goal, they said, was for someone to be able to watch the Ozobot’s journey around the course, note the order at which it stopped at the flattened 2D shapes and then match the 2D representation with its 3D counterpart.
If a person could follow the progression correctly, they could string together the letters on the 3D shapes and spell a word. The person would enter the word in a basic text box on a page the students had coded themselves, and if the person got the six-letter word right, a celebration screen would pop up to let him know he’d solved the puzzle.
If that sounds complex, that’s because it is. But the students, down on the floor and lying on their bellies at times, look merely like kids at play.
“It was a good way to learn communication and some creativity,” Worthington said.
Each student in the district is exposed to out-of-the-box learning opportunities like these, and the students clearly enjoy a break from the rigors of a classroom. This is more of the same, but it’s packaged differently. It’s giving the students a real-world task to solve, and then turning them loose on it with the freedom to create and experiment and even fail when necessary.
In short, it’s everything education should be. Compared with another childhood struggle, it’s like the students are eating their vegetables while thinking they’re desserts.
“We don’t really realize it, but we do tons of math in this,” Worthington said. “But we don’t even realize it.”
Campbell County Health will begin offering the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine through its Campbell County Medical Group clinics starting Thursday.
The partnership between Campbell County Public Health and CCH will add another vaccination option to the county’s growing list of ways to get vaccinated.
Several of the Campbell County Medical Group clinics will offering the new vaccine, including the Wright Clinic.
The vaccinations are scheduled by appointment only. Call 307-688-6050 between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday through Wednesday to make an appointment.
The vaccine clinics are scheduled for:
Patients will be directed to a specific clinic when their appointment is made and do not have to be an established patient at any of the clinics to receive the vaccine.
Once the vaccination schedule is filled, callers will be asked to call again to schedule the following week, the press release said.
“We are pleased that our citizens now have three vaccine options to choose from, as well as multiple locations where they can receive the vaccine,” said Public Health Executive Director Jane Glaser in the press release. “The sooner we can vaccinate as many people as possible, the sooner we can defeat the virus and resume more normal lifestyles.”
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a single-dose shot and recently became the third COVID-19 vaccine approved for emergency use in the United States. The other two available vaccines, made by Pfizer and Moderna, each require two doses, three to four weeks apart.
Public Health is continuing to offer the Moderna vaccine through its clinics on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays where appointments can be scheduled by calling 307-682-7275.
Through the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, the Gillette Walgreens pharmacy is offering the Pfizer vaccine and the Walmart pharmacy is providing doses of Moderna.
Campbell County could soon say goodbye to its two remaining shuttle vans.
A few months after transferring the title of one of three shuttle vans to the Campbell County Senior Center, two other local organizations have approached the county about buying the other vans.
The county has had the vans for nearly six years.
In March 2015, Sheridan lost its commercial air service. Campbell County commissioners proposed launching an airport shuttle service to Sheridan and Johnson counties. The county bought three shuttle vans for nearly $200,000.
They shut down the idea of the shuttle service in April 2016, just days after 465 coal mine workers were laid off.
In October, the county transferred the title of one of the vans to the Campbell County Senior Center. Since then, Cam-plex and the YES House have asked about the two remaining shuttle vans, county fleet manager Tony Langone said.
Ryan Anderson, the HR director at the YES House, asked about buying one of the vans to use for off-campus activities for YES House kids, Langone said.
And Cam-plex General Manager Jeff Esposito said Jessica Seders, executive director of the visitors center, want to split the cost of buying a van.
It “was pretty nice” to have the shuttle van available when representatives from the International Pathfinders Camporee were in town, Esposito said at a directors meeting last week.
The vans are 2015 Ram ProMaster 3500s, and they can fit 11 passengers each, Lagone said.
They don’t have very many miles on them. The most miles any of the vans has is 6,200, and that includes the drive to Gillette from Michigan when it was delivered, Langone said.
“They really haven’t racked up the miles like the original thought was,” he said Monday morning.
He estimated the vans are each worth about $37,000, but he’s doubtful that if the county sold them at its annual auction they would get that much money.
“If they’re at $36,000, and we sold them at our auction here, how much would they bring in?” asked Commission Chairman Bob Maul.
“It’d be pushing to get $26,000,” Langone said.
Commissioner Rusty Bell said he’d rather sell the vans at a regional auction, where the county would likely get more money than at its own auction, or give them away for free to the local organizations.
“I would either keep it or give it to them. You either sell them or you don’t. If the money’s what you want, and the money’s what we need, then we sell them,” Bell said. “If it’s not, then let the entities have them.”
“They get used quite a bit, but it’s always short distances,” Langone said.
The commissioners talked about various prices, but “I think we owe it to these two agencies to give them a firm price today,” Maul said.
The commissioners decided they were OK with letting the vans go for $25,000 each. Langone has reached out to the YES House and Cam-plex and is waiting to hear a decision back from them. He said the YES House board has to vote on whether it wants to buy the van, and that it meets at the end of March.