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OC STEM held another exciting Ecosystem Institute Session on September 21, 2016 at the Tiger Woods Learning Center, focused on Project Based Learning.  The morning started off with various discussions around the value of relationships within a STEM Ecosystem. CynDee Zandes, Ecosystem Consultant, spoke on the importance of an ecosystem and the legacy teams would be leaving behind. A facilitated reflection on the many different cross sector partnerships that exist within a team and within an ecosystem was led by Gyla Bell, Senior Director of Programs at Tiger Woods Foundation. Laurie Smith, Program Manager at Science@OC reviewed various communication norms that exist within a team, and allowed the district teams develop their own ways to keep open lines of communication throughout the year.

Dr. Kathy Bihr, Vice President of Education from the Tiger Woods Foundation along with Tom Turner, Director at the Orange County Department of Education facilitated a group activity based on Self-Organized Learning Environments, “SOLE”. Learn more about SOLE at

After lunch, OC STEM welcomed special guest speaker Joe Adams, President at Discovery Cube Orange County. Adams holds an Master’s in Business Administration from the University of California, Irvine, and a Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering with an Energy concentration from the University of Notre Dame. Adams shared with the audience his childhood dream of designing roller coasters at Disneyland, which he eventually achieved by becoming Program Manager in Theme Park Development at the Walt Disney Company before joining the Discovery team. He was able to work with various details of roller coaster engineering such as the safety of riders, the type of track to be built, and the amount of space you have. The design process is long and requires careful thought not only for the park’s visitors, but for the surrounding community. Engineers must take into account the city’s electric grid, the noise level for nearby business and neighborhoods and how to block or reduce it.

As CEO of the Discovery Science Foundation, Adams oversees a long-term regional plan to bring science-based learning and education to more of Southern California. The Discovery Cube in Santa Ana has a great partnership with school districts and educators in order to fulfill a collective desire to increase STEM education in the county.
Huge thanks to Joe Adams for sharing his story and for his support of STEM in Orange County.

Later in the afternoon, teams got creative as they participated in a hands-on roller coaster activity designed by the Tiger Woods Learning Center team, as an introduction to a Learning Progression project the district teams are required to participate in. Teams were tasked with designing and creating a paper roller coaster in 30 minutes with the following requirements: 1). At least one loop 2). Stay within the perimeter of the base 3). Keep the marble rolling the longest. Teams then identified the aspects of STEM that go into making a roller coaster.

Roller coasters serve as this years’ theme for the OC STEM Challenge. Each team must create a set of lesson plans that represent all components of an ecosystem. The hard work and dedication from each team has been truly inspiring.

Stay tuned for more updates and pictures from upcoming sessions!