Benchmark’s Innovation Lab, a makerspace facility designed by world-renowned architects, allows students the chance to develop their gifts and test their skills through project-based learning.
Through real-world problems and creative, open-ended challenges, students learn the fundamentals of design thinking, digital literacy, and the four C’s — critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and communication skills.
- What was the Goal in Creating the Innovation Lab?
- Teacher & Student Comments About the Innovation Lab
- Meet Emma Mattesky, Director of Innovation
It started with a question: How might we create opportunities for students to develop the skills and mindsets needed to understand how the world works and how to contribute in a meaningful, empathic way?
Though the structure is new, innovative, research-based teaching and learning strategies have been employed at Benchmark since its inception in 1970. At the base of this rooted foundation, we are, in essence, adding a new layer. This layer involves the design thinking method of problem solving and reigniting the age-old constructivist philosophy of learning.
Constructivism is the belief that learning is inherently diverse. We learn in different ways and take varying approaches to learning. We also learn by constructing knowledge through experience. In the Innovation Lab, students engage with creative, open-ended problems or challenges. This structure gives students permission to choose their own unique approach to learning, gravitating towards their interests and strengths while collaborating with their peers. The Innovation Lab then becomes a learning environment that is grounded in making, action, and creation.
Woven inextricably into this learning environment is the design thinking process. Design thinking is a tool, a system to help students manage their thinking as they navigate through real-world, human-centered problems. The design thinking process, similar to the design and engineering process, focuses on the needs of the user. At its root is empathy. Students observe, interview, research, and inquire about the needs of others. This emphasis on “other” empowers students to be globally engaged citizens which then in turn propels them to action.
The stunning design of the Innovation Lab is the work of two world-renowned architects, Bill and Chris Sharples of SHoP Architects, who are Benchmark alumni. In appreciation for the positive difference that Benchmark made in their lives, they have generously donated their time and talent to designing a facility that will be a source of great pride for the school now and into the future.
Teachers Comment on the Opening of the Innovation Lab
- “I am so ecstatic to finally have the Innovation Lab. Working in the space with my students this week allowed me to see the students in their true element. You could tell that the students left the lab empowered and excited to return. As a math teacher, watching the students explore and problem solve allowed me to brainstorm ways to apply more problem solving into the everyday math curriculum. As a teacher, I am excited to collaborate with Emma Mattesky and come up with innovative approaches to help bring math to life!” -Melissa Savage, Math Specialist
- “The students are highly motivated to have a new space for creating projects, which from a teacher's perspective, is very exciting to be a part of each week. I feel good about teachers having a place to explore design thinking with all of the tools they may need to let their creativity thrive. Personally, I am looking forward to new opportunities the Innovation Lab presents for cross curriculum collaboration with teachers. I have already started discussing new projects with language arts teachers and math teachers.” -Teri Watkins, Lower School Science Teacher
Student Reactions to Their First Weeks in the Innovation Lab
- "It was exciting."
- "I had independence."
- "It was experimental."
- "I could choose my approach."
- "It required a lot of teamwork."
- "I discovered something."
- "It was difficult but fun."
- "I found other pieces and new ways to connect them to make stuff."
- "I liked how we could choose what we wanted to build."
- "It was creative."
- "I like that I was in charge of my learning."
- "I liked that there was no ‘right way’ to do it."
- "I like that we could try first to learn."
Benchmark is excited to announce the appointment of Emma Mattesky as Director of Innovation. Emma relocated to the area from New Orleans where she has had a multi-faceted career in education including teaching gifted students and serving as a director of programming for a girls' camp at an all boys' boarding school. Emma is a cum laude graduate of Tulane University and is pursuing a Master of Education in Educational Administration, Endorsement in Academically Gifted at The University of New Orleans.
Recently Emma served as K-8 Gifted teacher at Belle Chasse Academy in New Orleans and was an ASCD Teacher Impact Grant Recipient. She implemented a makerspace in her classroom with a variety of high and low tech materials. She encouraged her students to utilize the design thinking process as they addressed challenges they identified in literature, in their own lives, and in the local and global community. Emma noted that she witnessed a transformation in her students as they worked from prototyping ideas, providing and giving feedback, and testing possible solutions. "My students developed the courage to take charge of their own learning," she said. “Students became fully invested in both the process and the outcome of learning, as they are the driving force of both.”
Emma said that she is looking forward to working as a member of Benchmark's team of professionals supporting the creation of design projects that enable student thinkers to use their individual strengths along with learned skills to actively promote growth in the local and global communities. "As a member of Benchmark's staff, I commit myself to a place where innovation and risk-taking are part of the academic experience, where excellence will not exist to the exclusion of pure joy and curiosity in learning, and where intellectual, artistic, and innovative aspects of education are fostered to promote future success.” We can't wait to see the amazing opportunities that Emma will share with our students as Director of Innovation at Benchmark!
Be Part of this Exciting Time in Benchmark's History
Gifts to the Innovation Lab may be made in cash, stock, or appreciated assets, and can be made over a determined pledge period. Please contact Louisa Hanshew at 610-565-3741, ext.150, to inquire further.
The students are thrilled to have a new space for creating projects, and I feel good about teachers having a place to explore design thinking with all of the tools they may need to let their creativity thrive. I look forward to the new opportunities the Innovation Lab presents for cross curriculum collaboration.
Teri Watkins, Lower School Science Teacher