It used to be a computer lab at Hoffmann Elementary School. But as technology devices increasingly made their way into the classroom in the form of Chromebooks and iPads, the lab was used less often. Counselors and staff decided to create a new space to activate students’ brains and the Collaboratory was born.
The Collaboratory provides all Hoffmann students with opportunities to explore, take risks, and play in an unstructured environment with no grades attached. With more than 60 activities (and growing) to choose from, students are exposed to a variety of activities at their own pace. Teachers sign up to bring their students for either 30 or 60 minutes and it’s now used during most of the school day.
“At the Collaboratory, you get to check out a bunch of cool things and do what you want,” said first grader Finley Bowden. “The robots make the kids so happy. We do math, we create stuff, and most of all we have fun.”
Exposing students like Bowden at an early age to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (or STEM) is the focus of a new elementary school pilot program. Beginning in the 2019-2020 school year, 12 elementary schools including Hoffmann, will have STEM Labs. They’ll be staffed by certified teachers who will be tasked with working with grade level teachers to build lessons tied to the curriculum. Students will visit the STEM Labs on a rotating basis much like they do currently with music, art, and physical education.
For the first year, Allen, Brauchle, Cole, Colonies North, Ellison, Glenoaks, Hatchett, Hoffmann, Kallison, Murnin, Passmore, and Westwood Terrace elementary schools will have STEM Labs. The hope is to expand to additional elementary schools in future years.
“The purpose of these new STEM labs is to create opportunities for students to experience critical thinking, collaboration, and problem solving through STEM, makerspaces, and computer coding type activities while providing choice,” said Doug Shudde, Director of Academic Technology. “These are experiences they will need to be successful in the 21st century.”
The STEM Lab will be next door to the Collaboratory at Hoffmann, continuing the school’s desire to provide every student with a variety of engaging learning experiences to prepare them for future academic success.
“One of the most exciting things to see this year has been that this space appeals to ALL students,” said Hoffmann ES Principal Carrie Squyres. “All students are actively engaged in here; whether they have academic or behavior challenges, whether they are in Pre-K or fifth grade. There's something here for everyone.”
During a May visit to the Collaboratory, first grade students in Lea Ann Ramirez’s class were building with LEGOs, playing with robots, testing their engineering skills with a game, creating their own puppet show, and learning origami.
Looking around the room at her classmates, Bowden said, “They all have smiles on their faces, they’re all interested, and they’re having fun in their own way.”