Out Of This World STEAM Learning

As educators and parents, we strive to provide students with opportunities to learn about real-world problems, ideally in a hands-on manner. But what if we could provide them with something that is also out of this world? Educator and design engineer Bob Barboza has devoted his life to doing just that. As founder of the Barboza Space Center in Long Beach, CA, Barboza has animated STEAM learning on Earth, through the unique lens of investigating life on Mars. 

Collaborative Problem-Solving

At the Barboza Space Center, students collaborate to solve problems posed by expert engineers. They form Tiger Teams to develop solutions for various challenges that might arise during the colonization of Mars: growing food in volcanic soil, maintaining electrical power during dust storms, providing education for colonizers, and throwing an interplanetary robotic concert. Students employ a multitude of 21st century skills such as coding, 3D printing, and designing experiments in order to develop innovative solutions to complex questions. 

Transcending STEAM

The Barboza Space Center Tiger Teams Program is a natural extension of Barboza’s background as a design engineer and credentialed teacher with experience in Gifted and Talented programs. After a dedicated teaching career, he channeled his passions for education and innovation to create the Barboza Space Center, offering students the opportunity to investigate space ventures as part of their STEAMD++ learning. Although STEAM has become a mainstream term in Education, Barboza wants to transcend Science, Technology, Engineering, and Technology with the addition of a “D” for design and plus signs to denote learning to code and cross-cultural and linguistic collaboration. 

Connecting Students with Experts

The concept for the Space Center’s Tiger Teams was to create a special group that NASA might recruit in the face of an urgent crisis demanding trained experts. Currently, Tiger Teams are comprised of high school and pre-college students, many from Long Beach Unified School District. Barboza consults with Northrop Grumman’s Head of Engineering and a professor from UCLA’s Math Department to advise the students and point them to academic resources when needed.  He hopes to use what he has built to foster collaboration between students and experts to conduct research and build tools that can help colonize Mars in the future.

Problem Solving with the Piper Computer Kit

Barboza added another obstacle to complicate the conditions of the Mars mission. Students were faced with the following scenario: Two space shuttles were sent to Mars as colonizers, one containing people and vital supplies for their survival, and the other containing all the advanced technology intended for use on Mars. The tech shuttle didn’t make it, forcing students to rely on the only computing system on the life-supplies shuttle: the Piper Computer Kit. With the Piper Computer Kit as their only computer technology to accomplish colonization, all of the Tiger Team’s projects emanate from the Raspberry Pi, electrical components, and software abilities of the kit. 

Students utilize the Piper Computer Kit to innovate solutions for every aspect of life on Mars from cultivating a food supply to providing entertainment for colonizers in the form of an interplanetary concert. To host this concert, students coded the robots of Mars colonizers to perform music. Students even used their Piper Computer Kits as a control system for rockets. 

Assessing Viability

To test the viability of their inventions, Barboza coordinated a program that connected members of his Tiger Teams with students in Cabo Verde, a country off the northwest coast of Africa, to secure access to an uninhabited island in their archipelago with Mars-like geological features and implement their experiments remotely. Students in California digitally shared designs for necessary materials with their Cabo Verdean counterparts, who 3D printed the designs and utilized them to collect relevant data on the island. Data was then sent back to the Barboza Space Center for in-house analysis. 

Barboza believes that using the Piper Computer Kit encourages students to problem-solve and practice the STEAMD++ skills they develop in his program. The Piper Team is incredibly excited and inspired by Bob Barboza, the Barboza Space Center and its team of experts, and the student Tiger Teams. We hope to continue to support them on their quest to bring us closer to the future of space travel.

To learn more about the Barboza Space Center, visit their website linked here.


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