By Kara Guzman, Santa Cruz Sentinel
New Brighton Middle School teacher Luke Sanders, center, works on a laptop with students Ben Donaldson, Ella Driver, Nadine Kienhoefer and Christian Kearins during the school’s new science, technology, engineering and math elective — the first of its kind in the district. (Dan Coyro — Santa Cruz Sentinel)
CAPITOLA >> Five minutes before the bell, student teams in Luke Sanders’ New Brighton Middle School classroom furiously dismantled their computers, desperate for time.
“Quick, the motherboard,” said Ben Donaldson, 12, twirling his screwdriver. Like surgeons in an emergency room, his team pried at a donated laptop’s innards, identifying components.
The first of its kind in the Soquel school district, a new science, technology, math and engineering elective has teams working daily on three-week projects such as designing solar panel arrays.
For this project, students are learning the programming language Python and the parts of a computer. Next up, students will learn about radio frequencies and put their soldering skills to work building their own radio.
Ben, a seventh-grader, said he’s interested how computer parts and code combine in complex tasks, “like googling pictures of funny cats,” he said.
Teammate Nadine Kienhoefer, 13, said she’s taken apart a computer, camera, monitor and iPhone before at home. But learning to code is new and complicated, she said.
“If one thing is wrong, the whole code is wrong,” said Nadine. “So you have to pay attention to detail, and that’s really hard for a middle schooler.”
The class began this year in an attempt to attract more girls to engineering and meet a growing demand, said Henry Castaniada, district superintendent. The class has a wait list of at least 30 students and the school has two engineering afterschool clubs, highly popular among boys.
Science teacher Molly Deich, who leads a club staffed by Cabrillo engineering students, said her club jumped from no girls to about 15 girls this year, after the middle school hosted an engineering day this fall. All sixth-graders had a chance to make mechanical hands, boosting the club’s popularity, she said. Now each Friday, about 50 students attend to construct items such as hydraulic robots and handmade rockets.