Magic School Bus

A STEAM-Powered Mobile Classroom Brings Hands-On Science Projects to Beaverton

G. Douglas Bundy wants to forgo worksheets and have students take up making.

By Julia Silverman January 21, 2020 Published in the February 2020 issue of Portland Monthly

Rocking out with Bus-made cigar box guitars

Ms. Frizzle, meet G. Douglas Bundy, the impresario of the Beaverton School District’s prototype mobile classroom that runs on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math).

As mastermind of the district’s decked-out FutureBus, Bundy spends his days cruising from school to school, running hands-on projects for kids who’ve never used a power tool or donned a pair of safety goggles, and consulting with teachers on how to bring the maker movement home to the digital generation.

The brightly painted bus, which has attracted both public and private funding, is also an ambassador of sorts, representing Beaverton schools at Pickathon, OMSI’s annual Maker Faire, and other events. It’s proved so popular, a handful of other Oregon school districts, including Dallas, Hood River, and Gresham, now have their own mobile STEAM buses.

In the past three years, kids have built everything from cigar-box guitars to 3-D-printed iPhone stands and garden glove hooks commissioned by teachers to make their jobs easier, a sneaky sublesson in empathy.

“When that bus goes into a school, it is part of an event,” says Bundy, whose official title is FutureBus operations manager, though he prefers F-BOM. “We are not just talking about gravity, we’re building massive marble runs to explore the phenomenon of gravity—as opposed to ‘sit in this chair, fill out this worksheet.’”

Below, Bundy picks a few of his favorites from the road.

Flying Machine

The goal here: use basic craft supplies to design a machine with enough oomph to lift a small load through the wind tunnel, defying gravity. (Paging Elphaba.)

Control voltage synthesizers

People feel all kinds of ways about the cult of EDM, but these student-designed-and-built synths helped unravel the physics of sound via electronic music.

Cigar-box guitars

“Kids all over the world are using open blades from the age of 5 and even younger, but here, we bubble-wrap kids,” says Bundy. “So there’s an aspect of that guitar build when you are going to use a power tool and there is a bit of risk, and that’s OK.”

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