Roseann Cima

“There ain’t nothin’ fake about these scissors,” says Shakira, a senior at East Palo Alto Academy, holding up shears the length of her forearm.

She is surrounded by 3-D printers, laser and vinyl cutters and a chemical hood for pouring and setting polymers. The drawers in front of her are full of circuitry and sensors, wheels and LEDs. Out of plastic shopping bags and fishing line, she is building a parachute for an egg.

Every Thursday morning, Shakira and her classmates build and experiment in the Transformative Learning Technologies Lab at Stanford University. The lab’s director, Assistant Professor Paulo Blikstein, believes that hands-on activities and powerful machinery will prove a more engaging window into traditional academic material.

The weekly visit to the lab is part of the charter school’s new physics curriculum.

At 6 feet, Blikstein towers over most of the students. He is a fair-skinned, clear-eyed Brazilian in a pastel polo, sailing through a room teeming with urban youth in dark, over-sized clothing. He hangs over their shoulders and peeks in on their projects, asking questions and offering suggestions. Continue Reading>>