The Lower & Middle Schools’ (LMS) creativity hub added a new full-time position at the beginning of the semester filled by Matt Olsen, formerly an LMS sixth grade science teacher. In addition to a STEM and tech background, Olsen holds extensive experience in carpentry and construction that includes building houses in Alaska, and has taught in both elementary school and university settings. Olsen joins hub teacher Ben Howe, who is in his fifth year in the role, holds an M.Ed. from Harvard, and has a background in psychology, architecture, art, and toy making.
Olsen teaches grades first through fifth in the hub, integrating with science, art, and service learning; Howe now focuses just on middle school students, whereas previously he taught all students in the first grade and up.
Launched in December 2016, the creativity hub occupies two rooms attached to Stevens Library, as well as a patio area, and serves as a home for creative engineering, fabrication, robotics, and coding. The space holds a wide range of building materials, woodworking supplies, electronics and software, 3D printers, and machine tools.
“In maker programs like the one here in the creativity hub, the idea is to solve problems in the world, and work together to build creatively,” said Howe. Lessons follow the Stanford Design Thinking methodology to provide students a framework for addressing real-world problems.
“Stanford Design Thinking was built for businesses to integrate and develop products, so these kinds of skills are life-long, and will be helpful to whatever line of work students go into,” said Howe.
Since the hub’s inception, students have been encouraged to invent and build objects that will serve to help others on campus. Past projects include building a fence and signage around the small orchard adjacent to the library so fruit wouldn’t get trampled, creating a “cozy room” in the library for students needing a quiet place to read, and fabricating doorstoppers when there was a shortage on campus.
The program for the first time has dedicated semester-long classes for seventh graders who may be assigned to the creativity hub. Howe continues to teach elective offerings for eighth graders, a general elective called “Designing and Creating in the Hub,” and a robotics elective.
In robotics, Howe is piloting a For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (First) robotics curriculum designed for middle schoolers, who will participate in the First Tech Challenge robotics competition.
“My goal for the creativity hub is to create a maker program that funnels into SHP’s great creative inquiry program and maker space, and also to create a robotics program that funnels into robotics at SHP, starting the kids younger so they’re really prepared when they get to the high school,” said Howe.
Also new this year, LMS service coordinator Kelly Power joins Olsen in classes for first through fifth grade, bringing her many years of experience teaching service learning to the hub, with a goal of having classes explore about two service-minded projects per year.
“Students have jumped right into service learning with Ms. Power,” said Olsen. “We guide the groups and find resources to help them follow their interests—it’s all about letting them get there on their own.” One group is exploring composting to reduce waste on campus, including paper waste, in addition to the compost piles already managed by the Farm & Garden program at SHS. “One class wanted to focus on water quality issues; another group is focusing on pollution and litter—looking at different ways to collect trash and create signage.”
Ms. Power coordinates with faculty to integrate hub classroom time with the curriculum. In fifth grade science, students measured their bodies and during hub class, molded miniature, scale models of themselves out of clay. “After they finish that project, they’ll have a unit about artifacts, and during hub have the opportunity to create an artifact and interpret it,” said Olsen.
With more grades having dedicated time in the hub, Howe and Olsen aim to progressively build students’ confidence and community-mindedness to provide real solutions on campus. “As I tell my robotics students: fail, and fail fast, so you can adapt and try again,” said Howe.
Olsen echoed, “When we use the term ‘failure,’ it means adjusting, and not getting too upset by it. The first time you work with a product, it may be beautiful; the second time you might forget to utilize the same process, and things go wrong. The hub builds resilience in students and the ability to acknowledge the differences in processes—and that’s when students really grow.”