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Design Thinking Students in Makerspace


“The world needs creative solutions,” says Prep’s STEAM Coordinator Dr. Shane Frewen. “The only thing computers and artificial intelligence don’t have humans beat on is creativity. Coupling iterative design with creativity, we can solve big human problems.

Using combined curriculum based on design thinking, Prep’s STEAM program will reach all kinds of students throughout their time at Prep, says Frewen. “Students who identify as creative are drawn in by the art and are exposed to technical fields; students who identify as scientists or mathematicians can discover the creativity inherent in their work. It helps kids break out of the pigeonholes they assign themselves, even at a young age. And the very idea of STEAM encourages faculty to think about our curriculum in new ways. By applying knowledge from one field to another, you can often make a bigger leap.”

STEAM philosophy is rooted in the idea of “failing fast,” creating a prototype, trying it out, finding the flaws, refining the idea, and trying it again. Prep’s program aims to give students the tools—both intellectual and practical—to make their ideas a reality on campus and beyond. “We’re future-proofing Prep students,” Frewen likes to say.

Mission Statement

STEAM at Flintridge Preparatory School engages students and faculty in iterative design, student-driven discovery, and interdisciplinary innovation by providing the tools to tinker and explore, empowering students to forge creative solutions to real-world problems both in and out of the classroom through an integration of science, technology, engineering, art, and math.

About the Program

The STEAM program has both curricular and extracurricular elements. In the classroom, teachers are free to design assignments and are encouraged by the school administration, and the school’s block schedule, to encourage students to work on long-term projects that span the science, math and arts curriculum.

For example, geometry students in Beth Pattinelli’s class work with art teacher Melissa Manfull to create mobiles that express two things in their life that they want to hold in balance. They digitally sketch their shapes, use math to calculate the precise centers, use the laser cutter to cut them out and stencil the balanced objects on. Frewen points out, “The beauty of this collaboration is that these teachers, who have been collaborating for two years, are still iterating the design of this unit. It’s STEAM in action!”

All 7th graders take Design Thinking, taught by Makerspace Coordinator Erin Thomassen. Once a week, for 77 minutes, they tackle problems using step-by-step methods that encourage interaction, creativity, and failure. From solving classic puzzles to working out the steps to finding an apartment to building a robot, small teams work together to develop prototyping skills and life skills the first year they enter Prep.

Seventh graders use the school’s woodworking tools to create displays for their Los Angeles Museum of Geography, translating research into giant jigsaw maps, scale models, and graphs of information. In the first semester, they learn from their mistakes; by the second semester they are confident designers. Seasoned 8th graders pass on their institutional knowledge to their younger peers, and the process is refined further. 

Community Block bridges curricular and extracurricular STEAM activities. Students are invited to dip a toe into unfamiliar waters and perhaps find a passion for combining design, art, and science. One student-created community block activity taught students to create bird feeders, solving a problem in biology through creative engineering. Other community block activities include teachers offering sessions on woodworking, laser cutting, 3D printing, and more.

STEAM & Service Fair

The STEAM & Service Fair is an exciting opportunity for students in all grades to put their experimental methodologies to the test and explore the incredible creativity our community has to offer.

The 2022 Fair featured Science Fair projects, 8th grade Community Impact Projects, and classroom and club projects. This year, faculty and students led in-person, interactive workshops on a variety of topics, including pendulum painting, anatomy,  citizen science, photography, and more. 

robotics club in makerspace

Clubs and Activities

  • Open Makerspace Hours: Prep’s cutting-edge Makerspace is open throughout the day and after school for designing, creating, and tinkering. Anyone in the community can use our 3D printers, laser cutters, electronic components, and more to make original projects or develop their skills through activities.  
  •  FIRST Tech Challenge robotics team: Students learn and apply skills in programming, designing thinking and engineering to build a robot and compete in a game with rules that change every year. Competitions take place against schools in the greater Los Angeles area and beyond.
  •  Girls Who Code: Girls with an interest in programming or STEM in general can learn and collaborate in this inclusive space. Students work on hands-on projects that serve real-world purposes and have periodic talks with local female alumni in the STEM community.
  •  Science Club: Students meet to perform science demos and experiments and to discuss recent scientific discoveries.
  •  Science Olympiad (High School): Students compete with other schools in the greater Los Angeles area in science and engineering activities and content knowledge.
  • Science Advisory Committee: Students on the science committee aim to foster the scientific community at Prep by spreading interest and promoting involvement in science.
  • Math Club: Students prepare for various national and regional mathematics competitions including the AMC 12, the Mandelbrot Exam, the National Mathematical Talent Search, Purple Comet, Who wants to be a Mathematician, Math Madness and more.