New AWS Think Big Space, Demonstrates Continued Leadership in STEAM

J. L. Simpson Middle School in Leesburg hosted a showcase of its Amazon Web Services (AWS) Think Big Space with a community celebration today. The new AWS Think Big Space, which opened in December, is a collaboration between AWS, Loudoun Education Foundation, and Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS), which has dedicated a 2,100-square-foot room for students and educators to explore innovative and imaginative ideas through interactive hands-on technical education and cloud computing training.

This AWS Think Big Space is an educational lab accessible to students throughout the county, grounded in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) disciplines. It also serves as a space to upskill educators and to connect LCPS programs with the wider community. Since the space opened in December 2022, it has served more than 600 educators, 2,200 elementary and middle school students, and 47 local business owners. Examples of the space’s day-to-day activities include: students using machine learning to drive AWS DeepRacer vehicles through mazes; teachers taking part in training and professional development workshops; and business focus groups meeting in the space to share their workforce needs with LCPS educators, informing curriculum and helping prepare students for future tech careers. 

The AWS Think Big Space is part of LCPS' larger efforts to drive STEAM education. LCPS is a national leader in K-12 computer science education. It first integrated computer science curriculum across all subject areas in three local elementary schools in 2017. Since then, through a $2.4 million GO Virginia grant, LCPS education leaders helped create the Virginia K-12 Computer Science Pipeline, focusing on teaching students computational thinking and problem-solving early to prepare them for careers in technology.

“We’re thrilled that Loudoun County Public Schools was selected for an AWS Think Big Space,” Loudoun County School Board Chair Ian Serotkin said. “In recent years, we’ve worked hard to create a true classroom-to-career pipeline, where all students can be inspired and equipped for 21st-century jobs. The AWS Think Big Space is another exciting chapter in expanding access to specialized programming, such as computer science education.”

LCPS Computer Science Supervisor Nicholas Grzeda shared insight on programming and use of the new Think Big Space for the new school year. “The focus of the AWS Think Big Space in LCPS is twofold: it is a Computer Science Training Center for Teachers and a space where student engagement in course content is elevated through innovative experiences,” Grzeda said. “Teachers are provided opportunities to engage in understanding equipment, programs, and curriculum available at their schools as well as reimagining their pedagogical practices by interacting with state-of-the-art technology in VR, Machine Learning, and robotics.”

At the showcase, students and teachers demonstrated how the space’s integrated learning environment – the furniture, technology, and curriculum – work together to support interactive hands-on learning. They also provided a preview of a few of the STEAM courses and activities that will be taking place in the space this school year. 

“By the time today’s middle school children reach adulthood, the chatbots and Artificial Intelligence technologies we know today will likely have evolved in a dramatic fashion,” said Sarah Georgiades, Head of AWS InCommunities for the Americas. “That is why, for AWS it is more important than ever to work with communities and schools to help inspire and educate young learners and demonstrate the critical ways technology is shaping the world and their own future.” 

“The AWS Think Big Space is a prime example of just what’s possible when the business community invests in the local public schools,” stated Danielle Nadler, Executive Director of the Loudoun Education Foundation, which helps leverage the generosity of the business community to fund innovative and critical programming within LCPS. “Through their partnership with the Loudoun Education Foundation and Loudoun County Public Schools, AWS is helping us connect student interest to workforce needs. We are truly thankful for their willingness to help LCPS students and educators to dream big.”

Given the early success of the new space, AWS made a surprise donation of $25,000 to LCPS for additional technology and classroom equipment. In addition, it provided another $25,000 to Loudoun Education Foundation for its Innovation in Education Grant program, which provides $500 - $1,500 grants to educators to help pay for supplies needed to support their innovative lesson plans.

The AWS Think Big Space at J. Lupton Simpson Middle School is the third space funded by Amazon in Virginia, but the first in Loudoun County. Using emerging technologies, students and teachers are encouraged to “Think Big” applying their creativity and imagination to solve real-world problems. The space features an integrated learning environment where everything from the furniture, technology, and curriculum work together to support interactive hands-on learning. In addition, these spaces also prioritize personalized learning to engage students of all ages, interests, and abilities.

Published September 12, 2023