SmartLab Improves Math Scores at Denver School

An elementary school in Denver, Colorado, saw a spike in standardized math scores following the implementation of a Creative Learning Systems SmartLab. 

Samuels Elementary School, located in southeast Denver, is an extremely diverse school with more than 500 students who speak a collective 26 languages.  Nearly 75 percent of students are on free and reduced lunch. 

Two years before the school added a SmartLab, the school’s standardized math scores fell two percentile points below district standards, with fourth graders at Samuels testing 22 points below district standards. 

“One of the challenges is to deliver an education that meets kids needs that are so widely different from one another,” said Principal Cesar Rivera. “We have to deliver our education creatively, flexibly.” 

While looking for ways to do that and renovating the school building – which at one point didn’t even have doors or real walls – school staff learned of Creative Learning System’s SmartLab programs. A school bond helped create modern classrooms with doors in the building. A $150,000 donation from Campos EAS helped make a SmartLab a reality for the 2015-16 school year. 

At the time, Samuels was only the third Denver Public Schools site to have a SmartLab.

When the lab opened, students began experimenting with sound waves. Coding. Engineering circuits. Building structures. 

“The excitement was so palpable,” Rivera said. “The building was abuzz. … But it was kind of fuzzy to as to what the connection would be (to performance).”

Then the math scores came out.  

School-wide scores jumped to 12 percentile points above district expectations. Fourth graders tested 7 percentile points above expectations.  Fifth graders, which were already 15 percentile points above the district standard, exceed it by 20.5 percentile points. 

The school’s at-risk populations also performed above district standards, with English Language Learners earning 21.5 points above district expectations.  

Even though the SmartLab is not solely a math program, Rivera attributes much of those successes to the lab’s real world applications energizing student learning. 

Those applications translate “pretty clearly” into the school’s math classes and seemingly abstract questions on standardized tests, Rivera added. 

“It has changed the game,” he said. “Being able to actually build, being able to actually code, being able to design. … Kids light up when they’re problem-solving in math.” 

Samuels Elementary School is now one of six elementary schools in Denver Public Schools with SmartLabs, Rivera said. And more are scheduled to launch this fall.

“It’s just such an amazing opportunity for kids,” Rivera said. “To have something like this is still so unique.” 

QEP Resources Funds SmartLab in Grady Texas

Thanks to a $200,000 grant from oil and gas exploration company QEP Resources, students in Grady Independent School District (TX) will have a SmartLab program when they return to school this fall.

Read more about the Grady SmartLab and the generous support from QEP Resources here.  

30 Years of STEM - Ray Ramadorai Then and Now

Long before Ray Ramadorai became a successful aerospace engineer, he was a middle school student developing an ambidextrous robotic hand in the first STEM lab ever created for a U.S. school.

Ramadorai, now 41, was a student at Butler Middle School in Jordan, Utah, 30 years ago when Creative Learning Systems installed the first TechLab 2000, a hands-on STEM program that evolved into today's SmartLab.

“It’s something I look back on very fondly,” said Ramadorai, who went on to earn a Bachelor of Science degree from University of Arizona, helped architect the Core i7/5/3 processors at Intel and now develops spacecraft, avionics, power and communications systems at asteroid mining company Planetary Resources.

Though Ramadorai always had a passion for engineering, learning in the TechLab 2000 gave him the freedom and tools to try new things at a young age.

“It really affords the opportunity for kids who have interest but not the means or equipment at home to try things out in an environment that’s easy to work on,” he said.

His teacher, Kim Durfee, encouraged him to forge his own path using the SmartLab’s tools. That support made it possible for Ramadorai to work on projects he was interested in, such as the ambidextrous hand he still remembers creating.

Thirty years later, Ramadorai thinks back on the TechLab 2000 classroom as “an amazing experience.” 

“It was a huge opportunity to try things and learn things in an environment that catered to kids who had an interest in technology,” Ramadorai said. 

Since his TechLab experience, Ramadorai has built a career around that passion. He has several patents in computer architecture and power efficiency, survivability and testing. He developed technology that helped Intel create dual core processors.

Now he’s responsible for spacecraft/ground avionics, power and communications for Planetary Resources, a company dedicated to surveying and mining natural resources from asteroids. 

“A lot of us are very excited about exploration,” Ramadorai said. “Very few people get that opportunity … to go to space, but as an engineer, you can build something that can and it can work on your behalf. That fulfills the need for exploration in a way that nothing else can.” 

He has a message for the students now exploring in Creative Learning System’s modern SmartLabs. 

“Persistence is really key,” he said. “If there’s something you want to do, keep trying to do it in one form or another, no matter what.” 

Then: Ray Ramadorai - 1987