Dr. Marsha Francis, STE(A)M Truck’s New Executive Director

ATLANTA—STE(A)M Truck, an innovative educational nonprofit that is helping to eliminate educational disparities with access to hands-on STEAM learning in local systems. 

Dr. Francis is an accomplished and nationally recognized educational leader with more than 15 years working toward educational equity. From her role as executive director of Talent Management at the Clarke County School District, where she leveraged her knowledge of equitable educational practices, stakeholder engagement, and strategic planning to support district initiatives. Dr. Francis was named one of Education Week’s 2020 Leaders to Learn From and has been committed to improving learning environments for STEAM education in Title I schools for her entire career. 

Beginning her education career as an elementary teacher for Atlanta Public Schools, Dr. Francis developed an after-school science club and a monthly science initiative to increase science learning opportunities for under-represented students. Inspired by the lack of high quality science instruction observed during student teaching, her Spelman College senior thesis presented ways to improve science instruction in Title 1 schools, and led her to continue that inquiry through her Ph.D in Educational Theory and Practice from the University of Georgia with a dissertation that focused on the ways in which race and gender limit exposure to high quality science instruction

Dr. Francis brings a wealth of knowledge to the role as a former elementary teacher, former faculty member at Spelman College where she taught Math and Science methods to teacher candidates and as a district administrator well versed in the needs of novice teachers and equitable learning environments. Coupling these experiences with her past support, Dr. Francis stands ready to carry the vision of STE(A)M forward. 

Dr. Francis is engaged with multiple civic organizations across Atlanta, including Atlanta Women’s Foundation and Georgia Women’s Policy Institute, to ensure equity for women and girls of color and was named to the 2019 class of Outstanding Atlanta, the city’s premier honor for career and civic engagement.

“I am passionate about this organization, STEAM education, and the possibility of providing equitable opportunities for students across Metro Atlanta and beyond,” said Dr. Francis. 

“The opportunity to lead STE(A)M to ensure that students have the opportunities to engage with amazing tools, tech and 21st century careers as well as direct support and development for teachers to embed these strategies into their teaching practice is the focus of my life’s work. I am honored to continue the outstanding framework created by STE(A)M. I look forward to leveraging my networks across Metro Atlanta in the fields of education, business and philanthropy to ensure that students are ready for the challenges of the 21st century workforce.”

“Dr. Francis brings a broad set of skills and expertise in education to STE(A)M.  We considered many qualified candidates and Marsha stood out for her ability to lead the organization in this next phase of growth,” said Alan Stukalsky, STE(A)M Board Chair. “The board and our entire organization are confident that her leadership will help our organization deliver engaging learning experiences to even more children across Metro Atlanta.”

Student Builders delivers hands-on learning experiences in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics primarily to children living in low-income communities and teachers across North & South America through in-person and virtual live instruction formats from the organization’s award-winning innovation labs. 

About Student Builders

Student Builders is an education program, a 501(c)3 non-profit (pending) and provides an innovative approach to learning by providing students with access to STEAM-based experiences in communities lacking those resources. Thousands of children across the area have been exposed to hands-on learning through the organization’s partnerships with school systems, professional teacher development, and community engagement programs. 

Media Contact:

Noel Mayeske

178 Laredo Drive

Decatur, GA 30030

Ph: 404.210.7358


LEGO Education Releases New STEAM Learning Resources

LEGO Education, which is represented by a “passionate group of educators from around the world who believe that play and exploration build successful life-long learners,” is offering a new program aimed at helping teachers create the best possible learning environment for their students this year — whether it be in-person or online.

Here’s how LEGO Education describes itself:

We strive to do our best work every day so our students can explore, learn and challenge themselves without barriers. Our community mission is to support and learn from one another, to find inspiration and to connect with our peers.

For 40 years, LEGO Education solutions have been purposefully designed to increase student engagement and confidence for all learners. With these free online resources, teachers and parents can continue STEAM learning in a hands-on way whether in person, online, or a mix of both.

LEGO Education Offering New Learning Resources

According to LEGO Education, the new programs include STEAM lessons that involve physical movement, downloadable teacher and parent guides, and a new online teacher community — or hybrid learning experiences.. These resources are available for free, but some may require access to LEGO or other products that aren’t free.

A new unit called “Training Trackers” — aimed at middle school students — will teach core math and science concepts using LEGO’s LEGO Education SPIKE Prime. With personally relevant and engaging lessons, the new unit will support in-person, virtual, and hybrid learning with a focus on core subjects to complete the robust STEAM curriculum designed for SPIKE Prime.

The unit has seven lessons focused on physical science and data, including new coding blocks that improve on data collection and visualization. In the lessons students learn about kinetic energy, speed, potential energy and other concepts as they “stretch, walk and squat-jump,” to collect data for analysis and interpretation. Each lesson plan identifies which learning stages can be completed asynchronously or in person, for hybrid learning scenarios.

Featuring seven lessons, the unit is focused on physical science and data – complete with new coding blocks to better collect and visualize sensor data. Taking hands-on learning a step further, students will learn about kinetic energy, speed, potential energy, and more as they stretch, walk, and squat jump to collect data in real-time and then analyze and interpret it. To support hybrid learning, each lesson plan identifies which of the five learning stages can be completed asynchronously or in person.

The SPIKE Prime Training Trackers will first be available in English this fall and teachers can prepare by downloading the LEGO Education SPIKE app, where lessons will automatically be downloaded. LEGO says additional languages will be supported by the app later in the year.

SPIKE Prime offers a variety of lessons using LEGO building elements, hardware and a drag-and-drop coding language based on Scratch or text-based coding with Python — to push students to tackle complex, real-world problems. “SPIKE Prime continuously engages students through playful learning activities to think critically and solve complex problems, regardless of their learning level.”

Esben Stærk, president of LEGO Education, said in a press release: “It’s more important than ever to continue learning through play – wherever the learning happens. LEGO Education solutions provide playful learning experiences that not only teach important STEAM skills, but also social and emotional skills that together help build the confidence and resilience needed among students, teachers, and parents to rebuild and thrive this school year – and for years to come.”

STEAM Learning Goes Virtual

The program and materials are set up in a way that allows teachers to adapt any LEGO Education lesson to virtual learning with the help of new guides, which include tips on preparing for online learning, engaging online learners, and managing materials at home. Since every lesson incorporates hands-on learning and collaboration, students get needed sensory breaks and develop social and emotional skills even during virtual learning.

In addition, LEGO Education teamed up with popular coding and robotics platforms CoderZ to feature a virtual SPIKE Prime experience and allow students to practice their coding and STEAM skills in an entirely online setting. The online experience can complement hands-on building activities with a physical SPIKE Prime Set, either before or in parallel.

Teachers can also engage with students via LEGO Education lessons using the popular Flipgrid video discussion platform. Using discussion prompts and short videos, teachers can see and hear from students and foster fun and supportive social learning, whether in class or at home. Visit the Flipgrid Discovery Library to see available LEGO Education content with more being added soon.

Building A Community of Educators

Launched this summer, the LEGO Education Community is an online platform that brings together passionate educators and technologists from around the world who believe play and exploration build successful, lifelong learners. Educators and parents are encouraged to inspire, support, and learn from one another, while connecting with their peers. The community features active discussions, a lesson plan exchange, community events and challenges, exclusive updates from LEGO Education, and more.

“I’m a teacher, but I’m also a lifelong learner. The LEGO Education Community is a diverse and exciting group of educators willing to share their expertise, as well as learn from others and take these skills back to the children we teach. Sharing and collaborating on ideas with other teachers from around the world will be an incredible resource for both new and experienced teachers, especially as we look to adapt and continue learning in the new school year,” said Jacob Woolcock, Head of Computing and Digital Learning at Penpol School in Hayle, Cornwall, U.K. and new LEGO Education Master Educator.

The LEGO Education Master Educator Program recognizes and celebrates innovative educators with a passion for and expertise in hands-on learning. Announced just last week, the new 2020 Master Educator cohort joins over 200 members, representing local U.S. school districts from 39 states as well as schools in Australia, Russia, and the United Kingdom. Master Educators also take an active role in the community by sharing best practices and tips on STEAM learning, classroom management, and implementation.


What is The ‘Maker’ Movement?

The impulse to create is one of the most basic human drives. Throughout history, as humans we have figured out how to use materials in our environment to create tools for solving the problems we encounter. In fact, the way our society functions today is a product of the progress of technology of one kind or another. By providing the tools, equipment and guidance necessary, children of all ages can move from passive receivers of knowledge to real-world makers. And we believe that this has the potential to completely revolutionize education as we know it. 

The Maker Movement

Making overlaps with the natural inclination of children to learn by doing. The maker movement values human passion, capability and the ability to make things happen and solve problems anywhere, anytime.

Classrooms that celebrate the process of design and making, which includes overcoming challenges, produce students who start to believe they can solve any problem. Students learn to trust themselves as competent problem solvers who don’t need to be told what to do next. This stance can be a crucial change for children who are used to getting explicit directions every minute of every day. It can also illuminate for teachers how authentic assessment can really work in the classroom.

The learning-by-doing approach also has precedents in education: project-based learning, Jean Piaget’s constructivism and Seymour Papert’s constructionism. These theories explain the remarkable accomplishments of young makers and remind educators that every classroom needs to be a place where, as Piaget taught, “knowledge is a consequence of experience.”

“There are essential elements of educating young people to become innovators: the value of hands-on projects where students have to solve a real world problem and demonstrate mastery; the importance of learning to draw on academic content from multiple disciplines to solve a problem; learning to work in teams” 

What is a “Makerspace”?

Think about it like DIY meets education. A “makerspace” is a physical space/environment that provides readily-available materials, technologies and tools that are designed to spark curiosity and encourage creativity. In these spaces, kids use real world things — anything from a cardboard box to a piece of technology — to design solutions to real world problems. Makerspaces are focused on educating young people to become innovators by considering the following:

  • The value of hands-on projects where students have to solve a real world problem and demonstrate mastery

  • The importance of learning to draw on academic content from multiple disciplines to solve a problem

  • The importance of learning to work in teams

Student Builders provides a mobile maker space where kids have the opportunity to make and create – a place where some tools, materials, and enough expertise and guidance can get them started. The Student Builders  maker space combines aspects of the shop class, home economics class, the art studio and science labs. In effect, a makerspace is a physical mash-up of different places that allows makers and projects to integrate these different kinds of skills.

What is “Maker” Education?

Maker Education brings the Maker movement into the school setting to provide students with hands-on learning that promotes creativity, thoughtfulness, a community of learning and sharing ideas, as well as, the idea that each person can create what they want to see or use to solve a problem or need. Making combines new technologies with old-school arts and crafts and vocational education — in a new, innovative setting.

Maker education offers a transformational approach to teaching and learning that is built around the real and relevant needs of learners and humans in general. It is an approach that positions student interest at the center, asking students to become more aware of the design of the world around them, and begin to see themselves as creators who can tinker, hack and solve real-world problems. Maker-centered learning develops that awareness through interactive, open-ended, student-driven, multi-disciplinary experiences that allow for the time and space needed to develop diverse skills, knowledge, and ways of thinking. In maker-centered learning environments, students imagine, design, and create projects that align the content of learning with hands-on application. Maker education can surface the deep knowledge and resilience in both students and communities — creating more space for different ways of knowing and sharing knowledge.  

How is It Applied?

Maker education can happen with cardboard and duct tape; a loom and wool; your uncle’s old car; robots and LEDs; butter and sugar and flour and heat. It can easily incorporate or embody project-based learning, community learning, environmental learning, invention education, deeper learning and other approaches to transforming the traditional educational landscape.

Project-Based Learning (PBL)

Project-Based Learning (PBL) is an approach to learning that makes the experience more engaging for both students and teachers. When participating in our projects, students learn to construct their own answers and innovative solutions to challenging, authentic, driving questions that meet real world needs in our communities. This approach is designed to give students more opportunities to have increased voice and choice in how they learn while gaining a deeper understanding of what they are learning and how to apply it in the real world. When participating in Student Builders programs, students have the opportunity to collaborate with community partners and our in-field experts to learn new skills, receive feedback, and create solutions as they engage in various projects. Project-Based Learning is a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an engaging and complex question, problem, or challenge.

The implementation of Project-Based Learning is guided by the following: 

  • Focus on Significant Content/Curriculum

  • Development of 21st Century Competencies 

  • Curiosity 

  • Authenticity 

  • Voice & Choice 

  • Revision & Reflection

  • Collaboration

Maker Movement vs. Project-Based Learning

The Maker approach and PBL both focus on the creation of projects, critical thinking and problem-solving skills, creativity and have the potential to foster empathy in students. The main difference is that Maker Education has a big emphasis on “hacking” or “tinkering” where you take something that already exists and make it better or you make something entirely new for the fun of creating it. Maker Education can also have a strong tech bent with the inclusion of coding, computer science and engineering, while Project-Based Learning can encompass any and all subject areas.

The Student Builders Approach

At Student Builders, we promote the maker education philosophy by utilizing project-based learning as a primary instructional methodology. Our focus is hands-on, project-based learning where students create a product that they showcase at the end of the experience. The Maker Project-Based Learning units can focus on any subject area and may integrate a low or high tech component into the end product.

Our integration of STEAM in a PBL environment provides students with the knowledge, skills, expertise and passion to create positive change in their own communities and the world around them. Our programming is designed to help students of all ages develop skills such as critical thinking,  collaboration/teamwork, communication and creativity — the exact capabilities needed for success in the 21st century.

Using STEAM education results in students who take thoughtful risks, engage in experiential learning, persist in problem-solving, embrace collaboration, and work through the creative process.

Integrating concepts, topics, standards and assessments is a powerful way to disrupt the typical course of events for our students and to help change the merry-go-round of “school.”