Since its opening in January 2016 as part of the library renovation, Deerfield’s Innovation Lab has offered a wide range of opportunities for students to turn their ideas into reality.
The lab, run by Research, Innovation, and Outreach Coordinator Ms. Emily Richardson with assistance from science teaching fellow Ms. Meghan Jimenez, exists as an open space with a variety of tools and materials for students to utilize. Its chief purpose is to foster creativity and learning through experimentation. It is open every day during regular school hours and evenings, and is located on the lower level of the Boyden Library.
As Assistant Dean of Faculty and English teacher Mr. Peter Nilsson explained, “The Innovation Lab prompts students to ask the question: ‘What tasks do my projects require and how can I arrange my workspace to best accommodate these tasks?’”
Students are able to create whatever they wish, from shelves for their rooms to lightsabers for a Halloween costume. Notably, Andres Milmo ’17 created a wooden monitor stand in the Innovation Lab that has proven to be very successful. There is also a community project in progress to construct a light fixture.
“A lot of core skills are discovered through direct manipulation of material,” explained Director of Communications and visual arts teacher Mr. David Thiel. Both he and Mr. Nilsson mentioned that, in particular, students develop critical thinking skills through experimentation, as they must continually anticipate and solve problems that arise.
Furthermore, the establishment of the Innovation Lab has paved the way for more project-based classes, including Mr. Thiel’s Design for Human Impact class, which is centered around creating effective solutions for real-life problems. In the class, students go through the process of designing, prototyping, testing, and finalizing their creations.
Currently, students in Design for Human Impact are working on devices to solve problems surrounding earbuds. Some are building mechanisms to prevent tangling while others are finding ways to store the earbuds in a compact fashion.
Just as in the Innovation Lab, through this class, Mr. Thiel hopes to “help students with what they want to achieve” by encouraging the process of trial and error, as well as teaching them how to use various tools.
“I hope to instill the idea in [students] that a set of tools is just as valuable as word processors or spreadsheets or digital cameras,” said Mr. Thiel.
Ultimately, the Innovation Lab “provides the opportunity to experiment with materials and learn about the mechanics of the world,” as Mr. Nilsson stated. “There is something so empowering about building something on your own.”