'Learning doesn't have a beginning, middle and end'
This school year many Lake Oswego elementary school students will experience a new kind of learning in recently upgraded SmartLabs designed to promote STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) learning.
The 2017 school bond allocated funds to be used towards building SmartLabs in all elementary schools. Known throughout the district as SmartLabs, Makerspaces or Innovation Labs, these spaces offer students diverse learning opportunities to build, create and make, using a variety of new technology.
They foster an environment where students are able to learn both independently and with other students. Students are encouraged to use their imagination, rational thinking and motor skills to develop new creations.
The Lake Oswego School District SmartLab curriculum was created by Creative Learning Systems, a company that develops STEM and digital media programs for elementary, middle and high schools. Students will learn about circuitry, robotics, digital communication, video production, software engineering, data analysis and sustainability.
They will use technology including digital printers, green screens, various robots and much more.
Hallinan, Lake Grove and Forest Hills Elementary, as well as Lake Oswego Junior High and Lakeridge Middle School have SmartLabs up and running, with Westridge Elementary's and Upland's spaces to open mid-September. The River Grove Innovation Lab will be housed in the modular building that should be completed at the end of September.
Nicole Doran, Hallinan's SmartLab facilitator, taught for seven years in southern Oregon, and used what was called a "Makercart."
"We wheeled them around to each classroom, and it was time-consuming and labor-intensive," she said. "It's exciting to have a whole room was dedicated to this type of learning."
Doran said that STEM learning is important because it prepares students for their future careers. "With these spaces we're creating opportunities for kids to think about jobs that don't exist yet," she said.
Russ Irwin, the SmartLab facilitator at Lake Grove Elementary, agreed. "We don't even know what jobs the majority of students will be doing ... because they haven't been invented yet," he said. "Most of their jobs are going to be tech-related in some way, so it's important that they're used to tech-forward thinking and they're able to adapt as technology does."
Irwin said that the hands-on learning done in a SmartLab will teach students valuable skills as well. "The space is going to teach students how to collaborate and work together," he said. "I want to push that with everything we're doing; they're not going to get it right on the first try. It's not that they can't do it, they just can't do it yet."
Doran has a similar outlook. "Students learn flexibility, collaboration, how to fail with pride and try again," she said. "The technology is amazing, but it's the process where you see them really learn. Can they persevere? Can they work together to solve problems? I'm most excited to see kids struggle and learn an appreciation for the process."
Doran hopes to help students understand why they are doing certain activities in what Hallinan refers to as the Innovation Lab. "One of my biggest things is 'What's your why?' What is the purpose behind what you're doing?" she said. "Yes, you get to play with robots, but what are you learning? How do these things affect your daily life?"
Irwin said he's most looking forward to seeing students explore the various technologies available to them.
"Some of the things that I have in this room are going to blow kids away. I'm looking forward to seeing the students shine in various activities, and see them be able to find out what their interests are," he said. "They might not have excelled in traditional subjects like math and reading, but this class can give them a place to explore and find their skills."
Doran said that students' time spent in a SmartLab can help them be better learners in the rest of their classes, and in life.
"The skills that are developed in these spaces create good citizens and humans," she said. "It builds on foundational skills, and creates the ideal attitudes you hope to see in the classroom. Learning doesn't have a beginning, middle and end. It's an ongoing process."
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