How AWS Think Big Spaces Help Kids Around the World See Their Own Far-Reaching Futures

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Provided by AWS

There’s a classroom in Prince William County where kids are having so much fun, they tend to forget they’re actually in school.Whether they’re playing the role of geologist for a day and making their own rocks or experimenting as a scientist using augmented reality software to closely examine plant cells, the students who come to the Amazon Web Services (AWS) Think Big Space at River Oaks Elementary School are learning in a place that doesn’t feel like an ordinary classroom.

It is one of more than 60 Think Big Spaces around the world. These AWS-sponsored educational spaces provide a place beyond the classroom where students can explore and cultivate an interest in STEAM subjects. The technology, curriculum, and even the furniture support hands-on learning. These spaces are located in Eastern Oregon and Central Ohio in the U.S., and Dublin, Ireland; Mumbai, India; Sydney, Australia and elsewhere globally. Today, these out-of-the-box education labs are providing STEAM education access to more than 70,000 students.

“I tell the kids they could be a game changer—a world changer—in this room,” said Bill Nau, an innovative technology teacher for the lab, which is dedicated to hands-on science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM) education for kindergarten through fifth graders. “You could be an astronomer or an engineer or a geologist. I want to give them an opportunity to see what the future holds for them.”This Think Big Space, made up of two brightly colored classrooms with cutting-edge technology within the Woodbridge elementary school, was the first of its kind when AWS partnered with the district in 2019 to create it.“We are thoughtful and intentional about the ways we partner with schools, parents, and students to make a positive impact,” said Cornelia Robinson, global head of inclusion and outreach for AWS. Robinson was one of several AWS employees who brainstormed with Prince William County Schools leaders when the Think Big Space concept was initially imagined. The group wanted to bring STEAM education to students who might not otherwise have access to it, while investing in communities where AWS has a significant local presence with data centers and other facilities.“We are a member of this community. We have employees that work and live right here in Prince William County,” said Wilberte Paul, a community engagement manager for AWS. “So we want to be good neighbors and invest in the community.”The River Oaks Elementary and AWS partnership is well-rooted, with ongoing investment in the school’s facilities, technology and programs since the space first opened. This space was recently revamped through a donation from AWS, which included the addition of a new book vending machine, and funds for classrooms and teachers.

Since 2019, two other nearby schools have created similar Think Big Spaces with AWS. As for River Oaks, it is now providing STEAM access to another 20 Title 1 schools across Prince William County through regular field trips via the STEM/Spark program, a collaboration with the Children’s Science Center Lab in Fairfax County and Prince William County Schools.The Woodbridge space has become a model for Think Big Spaces globally.“We have very similar conversations with schools around the world where teachers are facing similar challenges, and they want to provide their students with state-of-the-art technology and learning,” Robinson said. “They want their students to have an understanding of what they can be and where they can go. And they need a way to make it real for them.”As Robinson and her team have scaled educational resources across four continents, they also stay focused on providing for the specific needs of each local community.In Navi Mumbai in India, that means taking the project-based learning lab on the road to bring hands-on science and technology education to thousands of students attending schools without permanent lab facilities. In Ireland, a Think Big Space was developed in a community space in collaboration with the South Dublin County Council so any primary or secondary level school in the area, as well as the wider community, can access it. And in Sydney, the first Think Big Space in the country launched in 2022 at an all-girls school with a focus on nurturing digital skills among girls.

What’s the next big thing for Think Big Spaces?

Robinson expects to see more cross-pollination and collaboration among instructors and students involved in the program globally.

At River Oaks Elementary, Nau expects the renovations of the original Think Big Space will energize students when they visit at upcoming lab sessions—whether they’re learning to create snap electrical circuits, studying animal habitats, or using new dry erase boards to jot down their own big ideas for the future.

“With the Think Big Spaces, you now have an infrastructure that supports the sort of learning that’s bigger than all of us,” Robinson said. “Students will be the ones who lead the way. They’re going to be the ones who think big, we’re going to follow them.”

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