SUMMIT, NJ -  Oak Knoll School introduced its first-ever 'makerspace' this fall, intending to encourage students in grades K-6 to ideate, design and create computer and engineering projects in a way that allows for more experimentation, exploration and self-direction.

Kimberly Connolly, Lower School technology integrator, is dubbing the space an IDEAS Lab – standing for Innovation, Design, Engineering, Arts and Science.

“We’re defining it as a place where students can come to generate ideas, play around ‘safely,’ test them, feel free to fail and try again to build,” said Connolly. “We plan to use our technology to bring ideas to life.”

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Connolly said the IDEAS Lab will provide a cross-curricular environment that will provide tangible educational benefits for students. 

“Students need to be able to think critically, problem-solve and work together in order to succeed. The makerspace makes this possible by providing an environment for students to collaborate and bounce ideas off one another as they ‘make’ something together,” she said.

Connolly said the IDEAS Lab will provide a hands-on experience for students to be creative and inventive.

“The lab will encourage students to design, experiment, build, tinker and invent as they engage in science, engineering and mathematics,” she said.

An early example of students generating such “ideas” has come in the form of kindergartners creating an LED circuit. As part of the project, students had to think about what sort of things could generate light, such as the sun or a firefly, and to draw pictures of the objects.

Connolly is excited that the lab is already generating a great deal of curiosity on campus despite the effort being in its infancy. 

Growing interest and introducing students to the IDEAS Lab are just the first steps, with Connolly hoping to also create a Maker Club for fifth and sixth graders. Another long-term goal is having students further explore technology and getting them in the habit of embracing student-centered based learning rather than teacher-directed group lessons.

“This first year will be a learning curve for both the students and myself. With a tremendous amount of support, we will learn through this year what works and what we need moving forward.”

Part of the space’s natural progression will also be adding more tools, such as a laser cutter or drone, to the lab’s bevy of devices that already include a 3-D printer, Little Bits electronics, Lego Mindstorm robotics kits, laptops and Chromebooks.