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Smart and Connected Communities
Iowa Ag Connection - 06/22/2022

Iowa State University researchers, Iowa 4-H, and youth, families, teachers and other stakeholders in the Storm Lake Community School District are teaming up to develop interactive Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) experiences. AStudents explore virtual community model youth team from Storm Lake High School piloted a series of STEM workshops that started with problem framing and community mapping and ended with the team virtually exploring their extended reality solutions at Iowa State University this week.

This Smart and Connected Communities program is funded through the National Science Foundation with the aim of assisting communities in working collaboratively to offer vibrant technology-enabled STEM opportunities throughout the educational system and community that develop career and college readiness. STEM experiences enable youth with problem solving and critical thinking skills that make them a valuable resource to future employers and their communities.

The STEM workshop series offered last week at Iowa State University was orchestrated by an interdisciplinary faculty and staff team. They guided the Storm Lake youth through scaffolded experiences offering foundation skills and advanced challenges. To begin, the youth teams framed a problem, considered community resources and created a vision of an improved future. Next, they used SketchUp software to create 3-D models of their proposed community solution. To better grapple with their vision, the youth used Unity gaming software to engage with their future environment in virtual reality. The 4-H members used Oculus VR devices to take a virtual walk through the modeled environments they created. Finally, the workshop series culminated with youth wiring and programming their own game controllers to guide their journey through virtual community improvements in a capstone presentation.

Jony Khang, 2022 graduate of Storm Lake High School, shared, "I enjoyed this workshop because it gave us the freedom to create in our own way. Scripts for the game environment were challenging, but it was fun and interesting. Students experience Iowa State's virtual reality application centerWe are glad we were able to come, learn and enjoy this!" Kimberly Zarecor, an architecture professor in the Iowa State University College of Design and a member of the grant research team, said, "The creative and engaged work of the students impressed our research team and will help us continue to build resources for STEM educators in the Storm Lake Community and other students."

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