Written by Michael Gonzalez
This fall, Oaks Christian High School will introduce its innovative IDEA Lab, providing an academic environment for students unlike any other school in California. The IDEA Lab, which stands for Innovation, Design, Engineering, and Aeronautics, will occupy 10,000 square feet and house top of the line technological tools to give students a unique, hand-son learning experience. The lab has become a reality thanks to the passion and hard work of Dr. Matthew Northrop, the Associate Head of School for Academics, and Amanda Turk, the high school’s physics teacher. The initial conversation was to move the old engineering makerspace from its current basement location to a bigger room in the Bedrosian Pavilion. But Northrop thought of something more ambitious.
“What if we had a whole building?” he had asked Turk. That question is now on the precipice of being answered.
The IDEA Lab will contain classrooms for physics, robotics, electrical engineering, and computer science, as well as a flex classroom and an additional conference room. The lab will also house metal and wood fabrication machines, 3D printers, and devices that will allow students to create devices like robots and drones. Northrup and Turk envision the students designing projects with real-world application and purpose, infused with the same Christian empathetic values instilled in all students at the school.
“We don’t want our kids just building stuff to see how high it can go, or how cool it is,” Northrop said. “We want them to be building things that are purposeful.”
These projects are aimed to help people’s lives, and could range from prosthetic limbs to water purification systems. During their senior year, students will participate in a Capstone Project, where they will apply what they have learned to identify real-world problems and develop solutions.
“They have the opportunity at the end of their junior year to propose a project, which is hopefully interdisciplinary, so they can be working in teams,” Turk said.
Students will be taught by faculty hailing from prestigious universities, including Turk, who graduated from MIT, Tyler Hernandez from Cal-Poly, and Juan Velasquez, an alumni from both Berkeley and UCLA who also currently works at Rocketdyne. Joining the staff this year are Bill Webb and Greg Gillis-Smith, who worked on the Mars Rover project. Northrop and Turk envision their students furthering their education outside the lab by participating in internships with local companies, while also receiving real-world feedback on their projects from industry partners.
The IDEA Lab will also offer pathways to unify different departments throughout the school, as students in the lab can create products that can be marketed and sold by the entrepreneurial students, and film students can document how these projects work. The middle school will also have access to the robotics lab after school. This unification is hoped to extend into the surrounding community, where the public could come in and use the facility and tools, while younger kids could participate in rocketry and robotics camp.
“A community makerspace,” Turk called it. “There’s so many people who, I think, would love to use this kind of space.”
The school aims to open the IDEA Lab in late October or early November, initially launching its wood and metal fabrication and robotics labs. In the summer of 2019, the second phase will open its electrical engineering, computer science, physics, and new rocketry labs. After that, the future is limitless.
“It’s already starting to take off,” said Northrop. “But where it’s going to go in the next five to ten years excites all of us.” MM
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