Innovation Showcase Provides Educational Fun - From Robots to Bearded Dragons

Innovation Showcase Provides Educational Fun - From Robots to Bearded Dragons

Feb 26, 2020

By Ryan Burris, Chief Communications Officer, Capistrano Unified School District

There were tables with all manner of gears and sprockets, Rubik’s cubes and other dimensional puzzles. Imaginative submissions for the OC Maker Challenge were on display from our elementary students.

Sphero robots and electronic devices scurried around on the floor. There was a simulated airplane cockpit and “Kracken,” an award-winning competitive robot, showed off its skills.

As a banner at the entrance to Triton Center read, “Innovators, come in.”

This was all part of the third annual Innovation Showcase, held Monday, February 10, 2020, at San Clemente High School.

With a theme of “Moving Full-Steam Ahead,” the open house overflowed with hands-on activities, innovative learning labs and displays, and demonstrations intended to showcase local STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) education and the district’s commitment to and successes in implementing programs across all grades on more than 50 campuses across the district.

Preparing for future careers

Stephanie Avera, the district’s director of education technology, said in these times of technical upheaval and revolution, teachers face the challenge of preparing students for “careers that have not been invented yet.”

STEM and STEAM education have been popular models since the early 2000s. They were developed in part as a way to address a perceived decline in the sciences in the classroom as well as to spur technological innovation.

CUSD offers 28 career pathways and has over 500 college and career partnerships offered through College and Career Advantage. EMT students were on site at the event showing off their skills by taking vital signs.

Editorial Photo 2Through STEAM programs, students have access to technology labs, Chromebooks, 3D printers, robotics programs, and gardens.

Avera said Capistrano Unified dove into STEM in a big way six years ago, when it distributed 35,000 Chromebooks to students. Since then, the district has continued to up its game, adopting new science and math curricula. “We want students to be prepared for a career right away, or the next step of their education,” said Avera.

All CUSD elementary schools have innovation labs. There are 12 Career Technical Education labs in the middle schools for career exploration and hands-on learning.

At the high school level, students have a wide array of specialty areas, with each school having concentrations in areas ranging from robotics, to programming and coding, to fashion design, to culinary arts.

Anthony Russomanno, coordinator of Futureology, the CUSD college and career counseling program, said the effects of STEM on his program have been profound.

“About 40 percent of the kids who come to us want to go into engineering,” he said. Advising students and parents about STEM-based opportunities is “a large part of what we do."

The world outside the classroom

The district has partnered with local groups such as the Discovery Cube, Inside the Outdoors, and Crystal Cove Conservancy to provide additional opportunities for students to learn and grow outside of the traditional classroom model.

Families evaluated the morphological characteristics of different species of plans in the Crystal Cove Conservancy plant morphology experience. Students had the opportunity to vote for which plants they think should be planted in a particular area of Crystal Cove State Park.

In a classroom near Triton Center, Kelly Ellis of Inside the Outdoors and her companion, a bearded dragon named Lucy, greeted students.

Inside, the Outdoors is on a mission to introduce students to a world of science outside the classroom. Ellis said there are plenty of instances where wildlife and science intersect. “Science has its place in our world,” she said, noting that it takes science to understand clean air, water and balanced ecosystems. “There are a lot of opportunities to help with wildlife by using science and technology.”

For more information on CUSD’s schools and programs, visit