Lesley University’s STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) Learning Lab is filled to the brim with supplies. There are circuit boards, half deconstructed computers, built-from-scratch robots, and a 3-D printer. The shelves are stacked with cardboard scraps and piles of duct-tape and the drawers are filled with spare wires. And in the middle of all the organized chaos is Assistant Professor Sue Cusack and a team of researchers.
As the director of the Lesley STEAM Learning Lab, Sue has a vision for the future of education. She imagines learning environments where teaching moves beyond a static model of kids reading off of slides, to something more dynamic and inclusive. As part of the Graduate School of Education at Lesley, the Lab serves as a model for a learning ecology where nobody is bored with learning and children of all different abilities are included.
To try and bring about the change in learning that Sue believes is needed, the Learning Lab hosts students and teachers to introduce them to the ‘maker mindset.’ All the chaos in the Learning Lab, every building block and pile of scraps, is essential to the makerspace’s mission: to be a place where teachers and students come together to reimagine how learning happens in the classroom.
The Lab came about after a collaborative project at a local school. The school needed to replace their aging technology. The Learning Lab team took the opportunity to transform the school’s traditional computer lab into dynamic makerspaces that use mobile technologies, flexible furniture, and other materials and supplies for tinkering.
The makerspace was a success with the students and with the teachers. With this proof of concept under her belt, Sue and her team were able to create the Lab with grants and support from the Graduate School of Education. Now, the Lab helps to bring the maker mindset to Lesley students and community partners.
The Lab brings teachers-in-training, students, and teachers who have spent a lifetime in the classroom. They come from all different subjects, because at its core, the Lab is all about exploring and reimagining the experiences of learning. This exploring helps engage the types of students that often struggle in school. “We’re creating more opportunities for students to engage in learning in ways that affirm their identity, honor who they are, and recognize that all children are capable of learning,” says Sue.
The triumph of solving a problem in school instills in all of us an excitement for challenges and for learning. “It’s those moments that really make learning transformative and empowering for children and adults,” says Sue. Giving students ownership over their learning experience creates lifelong learners who are motivated to pursue their passions. “We want to exercise students critical thinking and foster their ability to creatively attack a problem.”
“Learning should be inquiry based, oriented around project learning to bring about those exploratory and authentic ways of knowing,” says Sue. In a classroom using a maker mindset, students are empowered to use any tool to help them solve a problem. Virtual, digital, and analog technology are all used. “We want to give students permission to have fun, talk out loud, and ask friends for help.”
“In order for learning to be meaningful for children, it has to be authentic and it has to be crafted in a way to let them assume some level of agency for their activities,” insists Sue. The Lesley STEAM Learning Lab creates space for students to be really engaged in their learning and empowers educators how to transform their classroom.