This fall, students will return to Ranney School, an Age 3-Grade 12 independent school in Tinton Falls, with a physical space to execute their most innovative and creative ideas. The new “Innovation Station” is modeled after the “Dream Labs,” “Fab Labs,” and “MakerSpaces” that have been popping up across the country since 2005 as part of the Maker Movement. Ranney’s Innovation Station will provide children from preschool through Grade 5 with an opportunity to bring their inner engineer, inventor, designer or artist to life. Lower School Head Dr. Andrea Danial says the program is building on what has already been done in Ranney’s elementary classrooms for years. For example, each year, the school’s third-graders design a board game from scratch while fourth- and fifth-graders build and program robots that can carry out simple tasks, such as picking up a ball. In fact, in spring 2015, students participated in an Engineering Expo rather than a traditional Science Fair, resulting in collaboratively made balloon cars, backscratchers and electrified shoebox houses. “These hands-on projects allow students and teachers to tinker and create while integrating various disciplines into their projects,” says Dr. Danial.
“The space will help children to think outside the box as well,” she says. “Instead of having teachers dictate what the students can make in the station, children will be able to come in with their own ideas and create their vision.” The secret to the space is what’s inside it. Ranney’s stations, for example, will house everything from electronics and wood-working tools to sewing machines and fabrics to everyday imaginative materials, such as paper towel rolls. “It is intended to be an ‘organized messy space’ that will evolve over time,” she says. “Learning isn’t really departmentalized. This space brings everything together so students can see the relationship between academic learning and real products that they can craft to solve a problem on their own.”