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.