Disclosure :: This post is sponsored by Ursuline Academy.
Ursuline Academy’s SmartLab: Where Girls Become Trailblazers
At Ursuline Academy, girls are encouraged to become trailblazers.
Girls are encouraged to make their own paths by thinking creatively, solving problems collaboratively, and living with compassion and courage. Ursuline values both STEM and the Arts by uniquely integrating them together. At Ursuline, girls are challenged to become diverse and flexible thinkers.
Ursuline’s Jane Gisevius ’61 Leadership Center comprises a SmartLab that is aligned to the next-generation science standards and integrates STEAM (Science, technology, engineering, art, and math) learning. It includes a robotics lab, video production studio, and several collaboration spaces for students from kindergarten through 12th grade. Students are exposed to project-based learning in circuitry, digital communications, mechanics and structures, robotics and control technology, scientific data and analysis, software engineering, and sustainability. For each classification of technology, the lab offers a variety of kits, digital applications, and projects, allowing students to discover a range of exposure to each mode of technology.
When students come into the lab, they find themselves in the “driver’s seat.”
Here, UA girls are prompted to craft their own goals and follow them to completion. Students learn how to write their own “SMART” goals, which must be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. Students have the opportunity to express their uniqueness and take ownership of their own work in each project. During each project cycle, students are expected to explore their technology, plan their SMART goal, do the project, reflect on the journey, and share the end result. This cycle guides students through the curation of their own project. More importantly, it prompts them to constantly reflect on every part of the journey. Time management, collaboration, and problem solving are significant parts of reflection, as the girls learn to acquire these skills across the board. Alongside all the technology, the practice of these three skills is critical and refined over time. The continual exercise of these skills alone prepares students for entering higher levels of education or the real-life work environments.
When going through my training to become a SmartLab teacher, the methodology of the lab challenged me to flip some of my previous knowledge. Now, I respond to student questions with more guiding questions, allow students to create their own projects and assignments, and allow productive struggle. Students are encouraged to utilize their peers, online resources, the lab library, and their own problem solving to navigate through unknown forms of technology. The lab gets loud and messy, but I am learning the outcomes usually match the craziness of the journey. Often, my lesson and unit plans are scratched out, replaced with student ideas that were stumbled upon through their exploration and “ah-ha” moments with peers. These alternative plans are ALWAYS better because they are student breathed through their interests, passions, and mindsets.
To help integrate STEM learning and the Arts, our students engage in various cross-curricular projects throughout the year in our innovative SmartLab. For example, this October, the girls became producers of a “Spooky Stop Motion” video in the SmartLab. They had to apply what they had learned in their reading courses to develop characters, plot, narratives, and themes. In art, they had to produce backdrop paintings for the Stop Motion videos, while emphasizing the skills being taught on perspective. In library, girls analyzed different writing styles of authors and illustrations that promoted a spooky tone. Students in our older grades even produced their own “spooky” songs using technology in the music classroom. This fun example is just one of the many cross-curricular projects that are woven into the curriculum throughout the year. From interdisciplinary learning to developing life-long problem-solving skills, the SmartLab is much more than just a place to experience different modes of technology—it truly becomes one of the many arenas at Ursuline Academy for girls to begin blazing their own trails.
Are you ready to learn more about Ursuline Academy? Join them for their open house on Tuesday, January 24th, at 8:30 a.m. Learn more HERE.
About the Author
Elizabeth Gerard has been an elementary educator for 5 years and joined the Ursuline community in 2020. She grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee where she attended the University of Tennessee for her Masters in Elementary Education. She has a passion for life-long learning, and has recently obtained her Graduate Certificate for School Library Information Media Specialist online through the University of Memphis. She loves reading and spending time with friends and family. She is expecting to have their first child this February and is ecstatic to have an Ursuline Girl of their own joining the nursery in the fall.