At the Experimentory, we believe that innovation happens at the intersections between disciplines, people, and ways of thinking about the world, which is why our course clusters are the heart of our program. Our projects-based clusters pair disciplines together in fresh and exciting ways, allowing students to learn by doing and to discover new passions. While our students are busy creating, coding, cutting, drawing, filming, and wiring things together, Media Manager Kayla Corcoran has put together a focus series on our three clusters to explore how the learning process unfolds at the Experimentory; next up - Theater + Electronics!
To any outside observer, the Innovation Lab looks like a supervillain's secret lair: bicycle wheels hang from the ceiling, white boards are full of detailed plans written in colored markers (maybe for world domination?), bits of wire and shiny baubles peek out from bins attached to the wall. Or maybe it’s the fact that inside its glass walls our students are busy creating superhero and supervillain personas, complete with LED-lit costumes. But these aren’t your average superpeople, folks. “I’m Banana Man!” boomed Vincent, as he helped Olivia R. line her supershield with silver tape. Bananas are a superfood, which might explain why Vincent’s character is an evil one: “I’ve got banana boomerangs,” he chuckled, somewhat evilly, pointing to the table next to him where they lay, waiting to unleash their powers. Vincent’s nemesis is Peanut Girl, played by Olivia R. “We got inspired by our favorite foods,” Olivia explained; their third group member, Adam, is Tomato Boy. “Peanuts and tomatoes are my favorite foods,” Adam mentioned. “Not at the same time, no, no, no,” he laughed when I reflected that I hadn’t had those two things together before.
|Check out these supertools that our students use to create their projects! The Innovation Lab is definitely one of the coolest places on campus.|
Despite their superrivalry, Peanut Girl, Banana Man, and Tomato Boy...ahem, Olivia, Vincent, and Adam, are “an incredibly collaborative team,” reported teaching fellow Ms. Terrell. “They’ve each figured out what they’re good at and have used those skills to contribute to the project,” she said, pointing out their roles. As the weapons designer, Vincent is helping to cut the cardboard and put together each character’s shield and weapon of choice. Later on, the group will add LED lights to those shields, building on what they learned in their LED name tag project. Olivia’s the playwright, bringing to life the conflict at the center of the superhero skit. She was tracing illustrations on her iPad while we talked, storyboarding out her ideas. Adam is the costume designer; he’s already made shirts for each character and was working on facemasks when I visited the class. “This is definitely my favorite project so far,” Adam said, “it’s so fun and creative…I’m learning a lot more stuff but I’m having fun in the process.”
|While Vincent may play the evil Banana Man bent on world destruction during his superhero skit, in real life he's a team player, helping out Olivia R. with the construction of Peanut Girl's supershield.|
The teachers and students in Theater + Electronics take their fun seriously. “Success for me looks like students performing confidently by the end of the summer,” said theater teacher Mr. Thrasher, and, he added, the students should be having fun in the process. Electronics teacher Mr. Bakker agreed. “I have many goals for this summer,” he said, “but chiefly I want students to associate positive feelings with the learning process. I want them to produce something creative that they can say they’re proud of.” That positive attitude is critical to have, said Mr. Bakker, who also noted that failure is common in both disciplines. Mr. Bakker explained: “In engineering, you can fail because something doesn’t fit right, you didn’t cut something right, or it’s not wired correctly. How do you go back and figure out how to fix it? In theater, the opportunity for failure takes on more emotional stakes: you have to speak and be brave in front of a group of people.”
Failure, then, and the subsequent efforts to improve and to iterate solutions is at the crux of Theater + Electronics. “There’s no ‘to be or not to be’ here,” joked Mr. Thrasher about the famously cliched line from Shakespeare. “But seriously,” he said, “You’re not either a failure or a success. It’s not all or nothing. It’s a process where students are growing, both in their knowledge and in themselves. Every step in the process is important.” That’s something that Will can definitely attest to: “Everything that could have gone wrong in my nametag project went wrong. I miscolored part my picture and then had to tape over part of it but then traced it wrong, and then the wiring wouldn’t connect,” he groaned. But he eventually figured it out, sharing important parts of his identity, like his homestate of Texas, with his classmates. The bumpy process of the first project hasn’t slowed him down at all. In fact, Will and his team kept working on their superhero projects even after class had ended.
|"It's so much fun here," said Will, "because the teachers are all in. They give you the tools to figure it out but they don't tell you the answers. You have to figure that our yourself."|
In the meantime, the students are learning about themselves and about others. “I loved the nametag project,” gushed Olivia R., “it was a great opportunity to share about ourselves and learn more about our classmates.” Mr. Bakker hopes that self-learning remains part of the process throughout the summer: “Some students are at different levels with their interest in electronics, especially. I want to make sure we can reach all of our students, wherever they are.” That’s why Mr. Bakker is offering mini-courses and badges in more advanced electronics work during studio. If students are interested deepening their content knowledge and building on their skills, he plans to offer them extra opportunities to do so. “And then,” he said, “maybe that passion will inspire other students, as well.”
So far, both the innovation lab and the acting lab are buzzing with inspiration. And that’s a good thing because next week some supervillains are coming to town with banana boomerangs, and our students will to have to save the day!
To see more of the adventures happening in Theater + Electronics and in our other clusters, be sure to follow our daily blog, and look for updates and photos on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Flickr.