The Lower School Design Lab was created with little hands and big imaginations in mind. It features tools ranging from tape measures and scissors to hammers and saws, colorful consumables like construction paper and cotton balls, and walls outfitted with circuits, Velcro and Lego blocks.
“They are fearless in their learning, and if you get them hooked on design and science at an early age, they will soar and excel,” said science teacher Hilarie Hall. “It has to start now, and it is happening now.”
At its core, Design Thinking is about creating human-centered solutions to real-world problems. But with young students, it begins with open-ended problems - from paper and tape, can you create a structure that can withstand the equivalent of hurricane force winds - that require creativity and the willingness to try (and fail) until they discover a solution that works.
Lessons in the Design Lab are inspired by the interests and passions of students, Hall said. For example, a weeklong study of the solar system in Kindergarten turned into a month-long, in-depth modeling of the solar system.
“When they see we care about what they want to learn about, you can see a change in their posture and the way they speak to you and one another. There’s an excited buzz in the room,” Hall said.
This enthusiasm extends to how they interact with the space and with their classmates.
Students have an “active appreciation” for the space and take care of it “without being asked to,” Hall said. When students master certain tools, they become mentors to their peers and help them until they too exhibit mastery.
First grader Arshan and his classmates have been creating new animals as part of their study of biomes. He said he has enjoyed building and drawing in the Design Lab.
“You can have creativity and learn,” Arshan said. “I have learned how to make animals and how to cut.”
The classroom would not be possible without a grant from former Lower School science teacher Laura Hoffman. When she awarded the grant, she gave Hall free range to purchase whatever students would need to succeed in the space.
“I like it because it really embraces a variety of learners,” Hoffman said. “When you’re doing design work, everyone has something to offer. It fosters that collaboration and includes everybody.”
Looking ahead, Hall said she would like to continue working with her students on projects that are meaningful to them and encourage them to solve problems in their community through empathetic design, which is also a goal of the D! Lab this year.