#SOL18 Day 7- Innovation Lab

I stood in the middle of the room, taking in the scene around me. My third graders, all 24 of them, were all busy at work on their individual projects. Cutting. gluing, measuring, bending, tinkering, sketching. No one asked to go to the bathroom or get a drink. No one arguing. No one looking bored.

We were in the Innovation Lab, something new my district has tried this year. It's a large space with cool furniture- rolling chairs in neon orange and green; a separate meeting area with comfy cushion seats, couches, and a large interactive smartboard (but the new sleeker, flat ones...do they have a name?); large wooden bookshelves to house all the projects the students create; shelves filled with pipe cleaners, straws, paper towel rolls, markers, glue, crayons, felt and more. There is a glassed in area with a green screen, too. 

The Innovation Lab is run by the librarian and the enrichment teacher...and me when I'm in the room with my class. The idea is to let the kids engage in those good old 4 C's- communication, critical thinking, collaboration and creativity. The current project that had everyone engaged, problem solving, collaborating and working so creatively was "Shark Tank." Each student was tasked with creating a new toy to present to the "Sharks" (yet to be named teachers at our school, but of course based on the popular tv show Shark Tank). The first week involved brainstorming different kinds of toys, purposes of toys, target audience, etc. This week, students came up with their own idea for a new toy and worked on creating a prototype. Next week, students will craft a pitch for their toy and the following week, they will present their pitch to the Sharks. 

But back to yesterday. One student decided to make a jewelry castle to house all her jewelry. Another made a doggie playground. A different student made an invention where you can play baseball if you are by yourself- a way for the ball to bounce back towards you. I was struck by how kids took their passions and turned them into the toy- the baseball fan of course had the baseball idea; my dog- loving student created the doggie playground.

I've been struggling with my class lately to get their attention, to have them focus- but here- in the Innovation Lab- every single one of them was focused, attending, engaged. While not every lesson can be as open and student-directed, it was a powerful example of how students learn when they have an environment like this and a task that is so motivating. There was problem solving, creativity, critical thinking, communication, collaboration. There was a spark and a buzz of excitement in the room. So while not every lesson can be like this, it made me wonder how I can bring more of this to the other subjects I teach.

Does your school have an Innovation Lab? When do you find students are most engaged? 

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