Innovation Lab Program Emerged from International Baccalaureate Authorization

A collective effort by the academic leadership team of the Solomon Schechter Day School of
Bergen County, the development of our Innovation Lab program emerged from our pursuit of
the International Baccalaureate(IB) authorization. As part of that effort, we introduced a design
thinking course in our middle school and hired a part-time design thinking faculty member.
 
Andrew Katz, our Director of Academic Affairs joined the school in mid 2017, bringing with him
experience in design and building innovation labs at two previous independent schools. Once we
created our vision for the program, we were fortunate enough to receive a donation from an
alumni parent, which enabled us to turn our vision into a reality. We then quickly turned our
focus to hiring an experienced director of the lab, and together - along with our science team,
librarian, and educational technology team -  began concentrating on developing a robust
curriculum, designing the space, and focusing on interdisciplinary integration across the school.
 
Our team also visited and initiated relationships with community maker spaces, such as the
Maker Depot in Totowa, N.J., which have offered advice regarding 3D printing and
demonstrated potential tools that will further inspire our design courses.
 
In design thinking, we specifically teach computer science principles, electronics, and
robotics. Our educators will absolutely teach specific scientific laws, although more in the realm
of principles rather than laws. In fourth grade, for example, we are developing a completely
integrated course that will merge science, library, technology, and design thinking. In
electronics, we will learn about units (amps, volts, ohms, etc.), symbols (resistors, capacitors,
etc.), Ohms law and Kirchhoff's laws.
 
The International Baccalaureate (IB) program places explicit importance on preparing students
to think of themselves as global learners who strive to turn their learning into action. These
principles marry beautifully with Schechter’s science program, which has always placed
importance on teaching and modeling the skills of science and the importance of the scientific
method as tool to discover new information and affect change. In every year of middle school,
our students are expected to apply these skills and complete an open-ended, authentic learning
investigation for an annual Science Fair, which inspires them to investigate natural phenomena
and laws that spark their curiosity and interest. Because this process helps students develop
such skills as perseverance, creativity, research, self-management and transfer of thinking, we
believe our students will better equipped to handle the demands of yet-to-be discovered future
careers and become highly marketable. The innovation lab will challenge our science students
to push themselves to try new skills sets. By providing access to new resources and expert
mentors like our new Innovation Director, we expect our students to further develop
21st-century thinking skills.
 
In the past five years, our science educators have pushed our Science Fair students to
consider engaging in engineering projects that can be prototyped and tested. There has been
growing interest and desire on behalf of students to choose to build and design. For example,
in our 2018 Science Fair, students designed and 3D printed field microscopes and attempted to
convert an old bicycle into a green generator that could charge cell phones. In the past, we had
to send out our 3D printing requests to a community makerspace, and limited students projects
that required access to advanced electronics and design tools. With a new, fully-equipped
innovation lab, the interest in completing engineering projects for Science Fair will increase
dramatically because students will have the access to materials and mentors.
Another facet of the International Baccalaureate that blends beautifully with industry’s need for
flexible and creative problem solvers is the IB’s requirement that all middle school students have
access to a design course. The IB design cycle requires students to solve problems by
inquiring and analyzing, developing the ideas, creating the solution, and then evaluating. This
model is very similar to the engineering cycle. Because of this requirement, our school put
resources into hiring a dedicated design teacher and innovation lab director. Both will work with
our IB coordinator and director of academic affairs to develop curriculum that require students to
apply electrical engineering, computer engineering, and materials science to investigate the
world and solve problems.
 
Additionally, they will work with our middle school teachers to develop interdisciplinary units that
demonstrate how learning translates into action. For example, students will work on
interdisciplinary projects, such as designing their dream room and they will apply math
concepts, computer engineering, and then may build a prototype of a piece of furniture for which
they will also use engineering principles. By engaging students in these real-world endeavors,
we hope to “hook” students into being lifelong learners and problem-solvers.
Solomon Schechter NJ