Introducing The Winooski iLab

Towards the end of last year’s school year, Winooski’s administration gave four teachers a task; create a personalized and proficiency-based classroom that looks and feels modern and comfortable.  The teachers gladly accepted this challenge and worked over the summer to create a school within a school that gave students the opportunity to study and learn about what they love, while having complete ownership over their learning process.  After lots of planning hours, many cans of paint, and plenty of oohs and aahs, the iLab finally opened for students today!

As students enter the iLab, the first thing they will notice are the colors and the furniture. We took our ideas for the colors from some modern offices in Winooski and some great schools in Colorado. The furniture was inspired by the LearnLab at Champlain College and common spaces at Dealer.com’s offices in Burlington. Our goal is for our students to experience working in the best possible conditions, the kind of environment you can find when you go to college and get a great job.  The iLab is designed to be comfortable, because if we are uncomfortable, it creates interference in our brains and it makes it harder for us to learn.

Once students have explored the space, they will learn about our unique learning process. The iLab’s learning process is split up into four easy to remember steps (which also double as our class mantra), that are Think it, Learn it, Make it, Share it.

Students first decide what they are interested in learning about.  We wanted to give students the unique opportunity to follow their passions, and spend time studying something that they love. Once they decide on something that interests them, the students dive into the research aspect of the class.  We want students to know the insides and outs of whatever they are learning by doing research through a variety of mediums.  One of our main goals is to make the research process rigorous, but also community oriented.  Each student is required to reach out to experts in the community and beyond to make their learning process more dynamic, as well as adding more depth.

After students finish their research, we are asking each student to design something creative. We want students to focus on creating a product that matters to them and other real people in real situations.  We are trying to avoid the Google Images and Powerpoint projects, as we are trying to push students towards making something that solves a problem, or improves the community or surroundings of the school.  Once their project is complete, students are required to present to their classmates, family, and community members during one of our ‘Share-it Nights,” and reflect on their learning process through writing.

So far we have around seventy students signed up for the iLab, which accounts for nearly one-third of the high school population.  As word spreads around school about the opportunities we are providing students in this class, I would imagine that those numbers will double by next year.  As the program grows and innovates, so will its students and teachers and by this time next year, think about what we might be able to grow into.

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