Gaynor School: From Popsicle Sticks to 3D Printers Innovative SMART Lab Fosters Problem-Solving Skills
STEAM, STEM, tinker space, maker space – these are all buzz words in the world of innovative education. At Gaynor, we’ve taken elements from all of these concepts and incorporated them into our new Science, Math, Art, Research, and Technology (SMART) Lab.
The SMART Lab wasn’t always intended to be so. Originally, the space was slated as a Research and Writing Center – a library of the future. But it soon became clear that in order for students to succeed in the 21st century, we needed to design a trans-disciplinary space where they can be engaged in exploration, problem-solving, and project-based learning. The SMART Lab allows teachers to take curriculum from a 2D level to a 3D level, inspiring students along the way. “We see the lab as an area of opportunity for students to expand their horizons and open their minds to new opportunities,” explained Mr. LeWinter, Director of Technology. “The end results may look different - from robotics and design, to video editing or 3D printing – but the goal is the same: creative exploration.”
Much thought and research was put into what we now proudly call our SMART Lab. Administrators, teachers, and specialists participated in bi-weekly brainstorming sessions, as well as site visits to schools and colleges with successful design and tinker labs to examine the spaces and curricula. Determining the layout of the room to ensure creative work flow (e.g., collaborative project space and individual space) and the specific materials that would flexibly work well within the space, and more importantly, pique students’ creativity, required thoughtful time and planning. Materials like cardboard, foam, Legos, zip ties, popsicle sticks, bamboo poles, repurposed plastics, modeling clay, circuitry components, and twine fill the shelves, which are surrounded by tables that fold down to make additional floor space for student work, as needed.
But most importantly, there was deep discussion on the ideal philosophy of the space. The emphasis is on being bold enough to try, not whether or not students have accurate hypotheses. A critical aspect of the SMART Lab is its ability to be a safe haven for our students where they are encouraged to problem- solve, fail, learn from their mistakes, try again, and succeed. This idea requires close collaboration with teachers to ensure the space is being used for the right types of activities and projects, incorporating Science, Math, Art, Research, and Technology.
This summer, teachers, specialists, and administrators participated in vital professional development to ensure optimal use of the SMART Lab. They took part in the “SMART Lab Challenge” where each team was tasked with developing something in a short amount of time, forcing them to experience first-hand how creative problem-solving works within the confines of the lab. This experience better informed their lesson plans and allowed them to see what type of resource the lab could become. “It’s all about connecting the use of the materials to enhance what you’re teaching,” explained Ms. Schostak, Writing and Social Studies Coordinator, who has helped teachers this fall facilitate low- and high-tech projects in the lab.
Ms. Paterson/Ms. Janczyk’s Orange Cluster students’ inaugural SMART Lab visit centered on a low-tech assignment – they had to “save Fred.” Fred, a gummy worm, was positioned on top of a life raft (AKA a cup) and had to be dressed in a life jacket (AKA wire), which was stuck under the life raft, to become safe. The students were armed with two paper clips and were not allowed to use any technology in the room. Mr. Koble, Lower School Technology Teacher, designed the experiment to help foster creative problem-solving. “I was looking to gage how students worked together to deconstruct a problem. It helped me understand how to get them to the next level of creative problem-solving.” Ms. Paterson added, “It was important for students to understand that technology isn’t just about iPads and key boards. The goal is to work on problem-solving first, then weave in technology.”
Middle School Technology Teacher, Mr. Russ, encourages his students to use every aspect of the SMART Lab. “It’s typical for students to circulate the room, grab and go, build, experiment, break, damage, get dirty, and have fun exploring and solving problems,” he expounded. Blue Cluster students taking his Sustainability through Technology elective have been exploring different technologies that can be used for environmental causes such as energy, gardening, and recycling. They used their time in the lab to build three different types of gardens using recycled materials, repurposed materials, and a hydroponic system to compare/contrast the best system to grow plants in an indoor environment.
Providing an opportunity and innovative space for students to tinker, explore, and problem-solve is essential to their growth. Gaynor’s new SMART Lab affords our students the ability to do just that and we believe the benefits will be seen for years to come.