This truck brings shop class and 3D printers to low-income schools

stem truck kids

Jason Martin is an elementary school teacher who's passionate about STEM.

He wants curriculum focused on science, technology, engineering and math in every school in America. But many public schools simply can't afford it.

"There's an opportunity gap in public education," said Martin. "Schools in low-income neighborhoods just don't have the resources to add a shop class or a maker lab."

So Martin decided to take those classes to the students. His STE(A)M Truck travels to schools in the Atlanta area (the "A" is for art), bringing 3D printers, laser cutters, saws and laptops to low-income students.

Much of the learning is done through project-based challenges. One class was asked to design a camera for a videographer who was born without arms. Another was asked to brainstorm ways to make eating vegetables more fun.

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Jason Martin's STE(A)M Truck holds a class in a public school's parking lot in Atlanta.

Related: How this STEM school is shattering stereotypes

He first converted a blacksmithing truck into a mobile innovation lab and debuted it at a Maker Faire at Georgia Tech in 2013. Within five months, he'd landed $100,000 in grants.

The funds helped him to buy a used truck and convert it into the first fully-operational STE(A)M Truck. The Atlanta Public School district also gave him $20,000 to pilot his program in two schools in the spring of 2014.

Related: The most innovative schools in America

Martin's STE(A)M Truck offers two programs for schools, both of which last for 20 days and require that 50% of the attendees be girls.

In one, "we park the truck in the school's parking lot and set up classes inside the truck and trailer module," said Martin.

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Inside Martin's STE(A)M truck.

The classes are taught by educators and artists hired by Community Guilds, Martin's nonprofit. They cover everything from coding and electronics to art and design. Each class has a 1-to-5 teacher-student ratio.

The second option takes the course directly into classroom. Martin said the focus is to actively involve the school's teachers and help them incorporate STEM principles into their day-to-day instruction.

The programs cost between $21,000 and $26,000, which Martin said is much more economical than hiring a full-time STEM teacher.

jason martin steam truck

KIPP WAYS Academy, a public middle school in Atlanta, was one of the two pilot schools to try out the STE(A)M Truck. Principal Dwight Ho-Sang said 90% of his students are from low-income families.

"For us to hire a full-time STEM teacher is a pie-in-the-sky dream," Ho-Sang said.

Instead, he hopes to bring in the STE(A)M Truck more frequently for his students.

"It was terrific to get this hands-on experience for students," he said. "Every student came away from the class with a positive experience."

To date, 500 students from 10 public schools in low-income areas have completed the 20-day program. Martin said the cost thus far has been covered by grants, the Atlanta Public School District and corporate sponsorships.

Martin's goal is to have a fleet of STE(A)M Trucks serving 4,000 Georgia students annually by 2019.

Related: Wanted: 100,000 new STEM teachers

Martin's own school experience motivated him to launch STE(A)M Truck.

"Growing up in many different places in New Jersey, I saw how zip codes shaped my education," he said. "The quality was vastly different in rural area schools compared to schools in large urban cities."

In high school, Martin became an apprentice with a local mason. "It was hard work, but it made me a believer that everyone should have tech skills and know how to use tools."

After teaching for nine years in public schools in low-income communities, he wanted to help level the playing field.

"The STE(A)M Truck is about providing access and equal opportunity to all students," he said. "I definitely want to grow it into a national initiative."

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