Meet the d.lab (not) the same as the old tech lab

For a number of years, we’ve been working hard to more thoughtfully embed our use of technology in the context of meaningful grade level and subject area projects. Our current 1:1 iPad project in the seventh and eighth grades is a concrete result of this work. While we’ve been making progress each year in this area, our fifth graders still had a class on their schedules called “Tech.”

Students have engaged in a variety of projects in this class. Many of these have been interesting and experimental opportunities for inquiry and were often connected to content being explored in other classes. At the same time, something about the whole endeavor just didn’t seem right. There was a time not so long ago when simply learning how to use an application in a tech lab setting was seen as being on the cutting edge of educational technology. Today, this seems somehow beside the point or at the very least not the best way for us to use this time. This is partly the case because we’ve learned that teaching these discrete application/device skills can happen in other places and connected to other projects. As Chris Lehman notes, “Technology must be like oxygen: ubiquitous, necessary, and invisible.” So what to do with the class formerly called “Tech?”

To answer this question, we are embarking on a fairly significant re-envisioning of this class that we hope will bring us closer to the school’s progressive mission and to a set of skills that we think are crucial for our young learners. Collaborating with middle school technology integrator Saber Khan, this year’s fifth graders will work together to build the foundation for d.lab, which will focus on developing important critical thinking, innovation and design skills. Over the course of the year, students will identify problems, research possible solutions, engage in an iterative prototyping process, and collaborate with each other and with individuals outside of LREI. We will use technology as a tool, but we’ll engage with a broader world and, at the same time, try to dig more deeply into it.

Our goals resonate with Tony Wagner‘s observations in Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change The World that the qualities of the successful innovator are grounded in:

  • curiosity, which is the habit of asking good questions and a desire to understand more deeply
  • collaboration, which begins with listening to and learning from others who have perspectives and expertise that are very different form your own
  • associative or integrative thinking, and
  • a bias toward action and experimentation

These are values that resonate with much that we do at LREI and in the middle school, but we are excited to make them the specific subject of our inquiry.

We’ll keep you posted as this experiment unfolds.

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