It’s the first period of the day and the room is full of seventh graders who pair up around the computers. Each student is creating, writing or exploring using Homewood District 153’s Smart Lab equipment.
“They’re completely engaged. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before,” said teacher Katie Nigro, science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) lab facilitator.
“They may be seated at a place where they have to use a specific piece of software. What they do with that software and how manipulative (they are with it) is their choice,” explained teacher Cheri Pesina who directs the Creative Media Arts (CMA) side of the lab
In spring 2016, the school board decided to purchase the $348,000 Smart Lab equipment and curriculum packages that now put science, technology, engineering, arts and math programs at the fingertips of the sixth, seventh and eighth graders for 12 weeks – six weeks for STEM and six weeks for CMA.
Four months ago the district converted the former Millennium School library space into the lab area with eight clusters, or islands. Each has three computer work stations. A small television studio was built on the west end of the space.
“Watching what these kids do on a daily basis always amazes us,” Nigro said. “They are learning how to journal, take notes, document their work, create project presentations.”
"Each station has a seven-day engagement based on an app or software. On Day 1, students view an informational power point on the software/app and create a unique project of their choice based on what they’ve learned about that software/app," Pesina explained. "They work on this project Days 2 through 5. Each day they must complete a journal entry about what they did and what they learned for the day. On Days 6 and 7, they complete a project presentation and on Day 7 they assess themselves using a rubric."
Nigro said It gives students opportunities to learn and create in a variety of areas, everything from science experiments to robotics.
The Smart Lab has been added to District 153's "specials," or programs outside a traditional school day. During the school year students rotate through the "specials" of music, art, computer training and shop. The lab is in constant use throughout the day.
Nigro said the way District 153 is using the lab is unique. All students -- even special needs students--will be using the lab. Other schools with the Smart Lab equipment have been restrictive in which students are allowed to use the set-up.
“We’ve found that our special education students really take to it. Everything is hands-on. And they create, which is nice,” Pesina said.
Hart has started a Broadcasting Club now that it has the ability to develop its own daily news shows. Students come in before class to prepare for the morning show uploaded to YouTube. The program is aired throughout the building via Smart Boards.
The daily news segment covers everything from play practice reminders to what’s on the menu. They have two students, or guest hosts, who are “on set” for the show acting as newscasters.
The club members received special Smart Lab training in late October to learn how to use the cameras, prepare the teleprompters, cue the guests, get the graphics ready and operate the TriCaster, an all-in-one, integrated video production system. Pesina said they also are learning to work as a team.
Classes begin at 7:35 a.m., but eighth grader Aaron Latman is at school at 7 a.m. to get ready for the morning broadcast and run the TriCaster.
“We got this up and running and (the show’s) every day. It’s just normal now,” Aaron said, noting that it’s a radical change from the old way of reading the announcements over the public address system heard throughout the school.
Emma Murphy, who had served as the on-air personality this morning, wants to take broadcasting classes at Homewood-Flossmoor High School next year “and I thought this is a good way to start. I will have an advantage over everyone else because I know how to use the TriCaster already.”
Pesina said the work these students are doing will prove to be useful at H-F. She has already taken her students on a field trip to the high school’s Viking television studios for a look around.