When James Murray became the principal of the William Rowen Elementary School 10 years ago, he envisioned a lab that would allow young people to take the knowledge and skills that they’ve developed and transfer them in new contexts to solve hard problems.
Murray, a former computer programmer for the military prior to becoming an educator, saw his vision come to fruition when the school hosted a dedication for its new Quantum STEAM (Science, technology, Engineering, Art and Math) Lab.
“When I became the principal of Rowen, I really wanted Rowen to be a place where students are using inquiry based techniques to make sense of the world,” Murray said.
“I wanted them to really understand how to produce things instead of regurgitating existing knowledge, but I wanted them to do that in a space where they could build, take things apart and figure out how things work,” he said.
“It’s also important to me that our young people don’t just listen to one narrative, but recognize that scientists and engineers of color have also made contributions to what we know today as life,” Murray added. “This lab will provide those opportunities and experiences for our students.”
In 2020, Murray was awarded the Christian R. and Mary F. Lindback Award for Distinguished Principals, which includes a $20,000 stipend for the school community. The stipend was used toward the lab and funded 3D printers, 3D scanners, virtual-reality headsets and a green room.
The lab will support programming that will expose students to virtual reality experiences, robotics and horticultural and science learning spaces.
“During the school day, students will have access to the lab during their social studies and science lessons,” Murray said. “Our third-, fourth- and fifth-graders will be doing work around quantum sciences.
“We’re working on our first unit of study, which is around the life of an electron,” he said. “We’re excited about the opportunity for young people to think about what it might be like to be an electron.
“In our after-school program, our STEAM work is being done,” Murray added. “That will be in the areas of robotics, quantum science, engineering, visual arts and our virtual reality. We also have a green room where students can create their own virtual realities.”
The new lab will offer two curriculums for students through partnerships with Howard University’s Quantum Biology Laboratory and Awbury Arboretum.
“The dedication of the Quantum STEAM Lab marks the coming into fruition of a dream, one held since my time as a math teacher in North Philadelphia and now carried as a physicist orchestrating international teams of researchers,” said Philip Kurian, principal investigator and founding director of the Quantum Biology Laboratory at Howard University.
“Howard University’s support of the quantum sciences and of the Quantum Biology Lab has been a catalyst for this transformative impact on our K-12 students,” he added. “We eagerly await the harvest to come from our young colleagues at William Rowen and this dedication fills me with a sense of joyful purpose and hope for the next generation of thinkers.”
Howard University physicists in the Quantum Biology Lab will serve as expert consultants and provide Rowen students with an early exposure to quantum science education by using digital tools, exploratory environments, and laboratory experiments.
“Rowen’s students will learn about the mysteries of the quantum world, wave-particle duality, subatomic particles including electrons and quarks, the double-slit experiment, Schrödinger’s cat, quantum entanglement and more,” Kurian said.
“I fully expect to see a number of Rowen students matriculate at Howard University to become researchers in the Quantum Biology lab in the near future, that they might see themselves as capable co-creators of new knowledge for the world,” he added.
Through the partnership with Awbury Arboretum, Rowen students will be participating in a food science curriculum.
“The Grow and Eat program really focuses on the earth as a natural resource and how it provides for us,” said Gail Hinson, chef and culinary educator.
“Then in return, how we as humans can provide for the earth. How it nurtures us and how we can nurture it, and then what we can grow from it by making smart choices in terms of growing food and eating food,” she added. “I’m really excited about the potential of this project.”
Murray said what he wants his students to know about quantum science is that they can create their own new discoveries.
“Through quantum science, I want them to learn that one part of science is learning what has already been discovered, but a more important part of science is learning tools to make new discoveries,” Murray said.
“I also want them to know that they can not only create knowledge, but that they can also make a difference while doing so,” he added. “They can help make the world a better place through the world of science.”