Our Middle School Invention Lab takes students through the engineering design process to predict, investigate, test, and form a solution for real-world problems. Problems like how do we solve America’s infrastructure crisis? How would you redesign your city to fit the needs of a growing population? And, yes, we know we need to cut down on carbon emissions, but are solar cars possible and what are their limitations? In past years, students have constructed bridges and roller coasters, built and competed robots, designed and printed prototypes on 3D printers; and laser cut and raced maglev trains on electrically powered tracks. At our Invention Lab, our goal is to show students how the engineering fields allow for the technologies they love to actually exist, and how building skills in those fields will prepare them for in-demand careers. For the 2017-2018 school year, the Invention Lab’s themes will be divided into three units.

The Invention Lab’s year-round technologies include: Makerbot 3D printer studio; 3D scanners (both handheld and tabletop); 3D sculpting tools; Universe Laser System VLS 3.60 & 4.60 Laser Platform; zSpace, a virtual reality desktop computer; 3D AV Rover; Dell laptops; iMacs; and Sprout for HP. These technologies are available for student use throughout all of their projects for a transformative learning experience.

Our visiting Engineers work alongside Middle/High School SBJC students, giving opportunities for all students to engage in innovation. All of our students learn the engineering design process together, then work in teams to apply it to their own challenges. Classes spend the entire school day with Ms. Kathy Sutphin at our Lodi Campus.

We are continuuing our High School STEAM Lab, which also takes place in our Invention LAB. Students come for two days and explore robotics, 3D printing, and laser cutting.

Invention Lab Middle School Bridge Unit 2017-18

Here are student designs from our Bridge Building Unit. Students were tasked with designing and constructing a bridge that spanned an 18" gap and held as much weight as possible. Some students used the K'NEX bridge building instruction manual as a guide to assembling their bridges, and others created wholly unique designs.

Kathy Sutphin

Instructor of Invention Lab


Ms. Sutphin is in her 29th year of teaching and in her third year as a Teacher/Facilitator in the SBJC STEAM Lab. Her grandfather was an engineer who invented and patented an automatic control mechanism in the 1940s, which he designed as an automatic train dispatcher. Ms. Sutphin has always enjoyed science and math in school, and remembers her dad waking her up to watch the astronauts land on the moon on TV.

When she was in grammar and middle school she benefited from the changes in STEM education from the National Defense Education Act 1958 and The Space Race of the 60's. She is amazed by and continuously tries to keep up with technology.

Invention Lab Unit Plans

Bridge Building Curriculum printable.pdf