Lyme School Design Lab

Human beings are naturally inquisitive.  It may be the reason we survived as a species despite our lack of sharp teeth, thick fur, or claws.  Somewhere along the way, we took this for granted. In education, we have long ignored this fundamental asset under pressure to emphasize content knowledge which is far easier to measure.  In my own experience, the casualty was curiosity.  Fortunately, for many like me, their curiosity persisted through other means.  I have always loved learning, though as a student, I only patiently tolerated school. I just wished one had more to do with the other.

Today with the expanse of what has been discovered and the opportunities which exist, education is finally realizing it can not hope to teach everything and its best hope is to simultaneously teach the skills that are held in common, in addition to the most relevant content.  These common skills are often referred to as 21st century thinking skills. They focus not simply on the content of what is being learned, but how to think about it, how to evaluate it and analyze it, communicate with others about it and how to reimagine it in different forms.  These ideals are reflected in the Lyme School Principles of Learning.

These ideals are embedded in our Science Goals and in our implementation of our Design Lab.  The Design Lab is a reimagining of how we want students to understand their role in terms of technology. We believe that students should learn to be designers, not consumers of technological advancements.  This coming year we will be reorienting our Computer Science Department toward these ends.  This change is not insignificant. It places students' curiosity and ingenuity at the center of the classroom by presenting challenges that will require making mistakes, engaging creativity, possessing persistence, and discovering what is to be learned as opposed to being told what to learn.  It presents learning in a setting in which the opportunity to make mistakes is real, even desirable, as they are an inherent step in the process of learning.

The Design Lab is about the learning experience we want them to have and to practice the outcomes we desire, more than the objects we use to achieve these goals.  Obviously, there will be a lot of objects, but these are not the focus. The Lab will incorporate robotics and circuitry, as well as straws and styrofoam and all manner of cardboard and computerized gadgetry.  It will employ Maker spaces and “Breaker” spaces— where students can construct new designs (Maker) and deconstruct (break things apart) existing designs (Breaker). It is a space where it is OK to take apart an old VCR to understand how it works, and then use components to make something new.  The Design Lab uses the Design Thinking Process (Empathize• Define• Ideate• Prototype• Test• Implement) to give shape and structure to our inherent creative process.

As many of our teachers already employ these strategies, the Design Lab will provide them even more resources, space, and support to achieve these goals with their class.  I have an intense sense of hope and excitement for this new dimension for our school. The opportunity to expand our capacity to energize our students’ curiosity and desire to discover meaning and understanding themselves, is a goal I have strived to accomplish in our school for many years. Each step in this continuum of innovation in our school gets us closer to achieving what I believe is our potential, and the kind of education every child should be experiencing.

I can hardly wait to see what our students create and what kind of future they could shape (for our schools as well).

More to come....

Read more about Design Thinking from ASCD (The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development )