Where Ideas Come to Life
The IdeaLab in the lower level of the Richard B. Fisher Middle School seems cavernous – nearly 90 feet long and plenty wide with high ceilings, bright lighting and ample elbow room among the worktables, storage and snazzy equipment.
There’s a 3D printer in one corner, two more farther down the room, and a laser cutter in a prominent spot. Oversized exhaust hoods and high-powered ventilation keep the soldering table and other work areas free of fumes. There are safety locks on power saws, and electrical cords roll up out of the way when not in use.
It’s a great space, but that’s not the main thing.
“What we’re aspiring to do is to give our kids spaces for creation, collaboration, communication,” said Corey Kilbane, IdeaLab coordinator and Upper School chemistry teacher. “We want it warm, welcoming, where anyone can come down and work on their idea.”
David Brightbill, academic dean for curriculum and professional development, described the opening of the lab – the soft rollout began in the fall of 2015 – as “an opportunity to rethink the learning experience, to really go beyond what’s happening in the classroom.”
The focus on doing, creating and problem solving “is much more a hands-on approach, where students are producing something that shows that the learning has taken place as opposed to just regurgitating facts on a test,” he said.
Teachers are being trained to use the new technology and urged to think about how what they’ve learned might be applicable to the courses they’re teaching. “There is an expectation that all departments will at least be considering these opportunities,” Brightbill said.
Instrumental music students have been studying the physics of sound and instrument design by building PVC or plywood versions of their instruments in the lab. The effort is a result of a VITAL summer professional development grant that funded a research collaboration between Brad Ford, Upper School music teacher, and Tim Clarke, Upper School science teacher.
Players built rudimentary trombones, for instance, using PVC piping cut to size and plastic mouthpieces shaped by a 3D printer (also used to create bright blue bells for the horn). Changing the interior shape of the mouthpiece has an effect that the students can discern as they play.
“The long-term goal is to play with the shape and see the effect on the tone,” Clarke said.
“We try things out, we learn from our errors,” said Ford. “And students get a better understanding of the instruments they play.”
Trombone player and sophomore Cole Frieman agreed. “It’s so cool – you put the pieces together and, oh, it’s an instrument now,” he said. “To build it, you really have to learn about the instrument, more than just knowing how to play it. We’re building mouthpieces right now and Mr. Clarke will ask, ‘Does it feel right? How does it feel different?’ It’s amazing.”