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story.lead_photo.caption SubmittedMrs. Ferrell’s fifth grade students compete against each other to construct the tallest tower using Learning Resources Geometric Shapes kits in California Elementary School’s new SmartLab facility.

Work in California's latest classroom space addition is off to a quick start.

California Elementary School is the first school in the state of Missouri to have a SmartLab — a fully-integrated learning environment geared toward STEM education — within its facility. The lab opened last month and since then, students have fallen in love with their new class.

Mazie Osman happily took on the job of Smart Lab Facilitator.

"I taught fourth grade here for three years, and then I switched to Jeff City just to be closer to home and I taught fifth grade there for two years," Osman said. "But tech and STEM has always been my kind of thing, I guess, and when (CES principal Gary Baker) found out we were getting this he was kind of like 'Hey, this is going to be coming soon' and so when they got it all funded and got it out there I was like 'Okay, I'm going to come back home, I'm ready to be back in California.'"

In this classroom, students are taking their learning into their own hands. Their day typically starts out with them coming up front and having Mrs. Osman show them a 10-minute lesson on the tool of the day and how it works. These tools help students understand how to use computers and other mechanics. After that, students go to their own work space with a partner, where they will use the tool to complete a challenge on their own. This class is more a hands-on, collaborative, project-based class instead of having a teacher continuously guide the students every step of the way.

Creative Learning Systems is the company that gets all the tools and challenges together and comes in and sets up SmartLabs for schools and students to use.

Each lesson and tool is designed with each grade level in mind. With pre-K, they're given a five-minute lesson and they see it more as playing than learning. The main goal for them is to get them ready for next year, have them start learning the procedures and how to use the tools at their disposal. The older the students get and the higher the grade level, the more complicated those tools will become.

Students will get to do coding with different robots, use circuit mazes to understand electricity, graphic design, use a 3-D printer, and there are ozobots they'll code by using colors and markers.

"It's a lot of hands-on and knowing they're not going to get it right the first time, and that's okay," Osman said. "It's making learning fun and interesting, and it all will come back and tie in with their curriculum they're learning in the classroom. It's also all collaborative; they will have a partner every time they're in here. That was one of the reasons for getting the lab; one of the skills a lot of adults don't have right now is that collaboration in the workplace. It just wasn't something that was really focused on so this just gives them that extra component of practice for them."

The students have already done some things with animations and discussed how those types of movies are created. They have been using an animation program to create short clips so far, and this week, they will be learning how to make their characters blink, move and dance.

"It's my favorite class," Osman said. "It's kind of just the dream job for someone who is interested in it. Seeing the kids being so excited and think they're playing, but they're really problem-solving and learning. I think it's great. I think it's awesome that these kids in this little town get it. Any boost you can give them will help."

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