At Quest, we put a heavy emphasis on creativity. The Innovation Lab at Quest offers students an opportunity to tinker, to build, to create, and to explore their passions in regards to "making." What is making, exactly? And what is technology, for that matter? In the iLab, we have technology that ranges from sewing machines (yes, sewing) to a laser cutter, from 3D printers, power drills, Dremels, soldering irons, and LEGO EV3 kits. And, of course, we support that creativity with tons of online tools as well, including auto cad programs, animation, and design software.
We embrace the spirit that making can take many shapes and forms, and our main priority is to facilitate innovation and ideas. It takes a lot of work for a young person to recognize and design a solution for that problem.
This is what the Innovation Lab is all about: problems and solutions.
Design Thinking Approach:
Our first implementation with the iLab was a design thinking approach, and we utilize resources related to IDEOs Design Thinking for Educators. This approach, requires students to constantly think of projects in a problem/solution way. One will see that the best products address enormous problems, that typically have large audiences. This is probably the most challenging part of STEAM, but in the end, students end up with projects that have more import and serve specific audiences. It's also has implications for branding and entrepreneurs as well.
One thing that is very different than most other classes at Quest, is our student-directed approach. With the creation of MakerPaths.com, we've built a curriculum that allows students to have control over what skills they'd like to attain. From virtual reality, circuitry, machines, art, music, robotics, consumer science and more- we've created paths to skills that, when complete, students go away with two important traits that every innovator must have: persistence and tenacity. For each project, students are required to fill out a Project Contract, which gives the ownership and responsibility over managing the project to the student. Due dates are a collaboration between teacher and student, and if due dates are missed or exceeded, students are asked to address time management in their Project Rubric (here). It's not a free-for-all, as we often guide students to paths where we feel they may benefit greatly. We want students to be challenged, and go away with amazing maker skills.
For each project and skill achieved, students earn badges for their work. The goals is that by the end of 8th grade, a middle schooler would earn at least 24 levels of badges, in addition to smaller skill badges. Their "badge profiles" are public, and anyone can see the many skills and maker projects that Quest students have created and earned by going to our badge site here: https://credly.com/u/questacademy. The unique thing about badges, is that each badge is tied to evidence. Evidence of completion. Evidence of achievement. Any time someone asks a student to prove their evidence of a skill, they need to look no further than by saying: here's my badge profile. For students that are looking to get into competitive high schools, engineering high schools, or arts high schools- the badge profile serves as a resume. Instead, this resume is tied together with proof of each skill.
Grading a STEAM lab is always a challenge, and varies from school to school. The main goals of the Innovation Lab at Quest is to build on our character program, but pushing students to exhibit traits of persistence and tenacity with each project they undertake. We look for and encourage behaviors that are linked with innovators, entrepreneurs, and makers. Our goal, at minimum, is for each student to partake in at least 6 levels of Makerpaths each year. At the least, that's 2 projects per semester. This doesn't always work for each student, and some get hung up on some projects for various reasons. That is allowed, as long as students are working diligently to fix the problems that arise, and address the time management problems in their final presentations. Our final project rubric is here, and is based on the 6 criteria we use for our design. Each rubric has a total for 30 points, but those points are only used to give back meaningful feedback to the student. They are not tallied in the final grade.
What is in a P?
Final grades are a bit different. For the past year STEAM has been a PASS/FAIL situation, but we've made steps to make STEAM feedback more valuable to students. A "pass" doesn't really communicate the traits that we're aiming students will acquire during their STEAM lab experience at Quest. We want to shape the qualities of makers/innovators in the STEAM lab, and to do this we've created four grade codes that are meaningful. Basically the question we want students to ask themselves is: am I progressing? This puts the reflection on the student, and is something a good engineer would ask themselves. Have I done enough to Progress or Exceed? Those are the questions you want your future innovators to ask of themselves. See this document for descriptors.
EM = Emerging DEV = Developing P = Progressing E = Exceeding
The goal of Quest STEAM is to provide many paths where students continue to collect evidence of mastery of skills related to computer science, engineering, robotics and more. Make sure to check out all of the amazing STEAM related evidence that Quest students create every day over at our Quest STEAM YouTube Channel.