North Colonie students experience Innovation Spaces

COLONIE – New this year, there are six Innovation Spaces, each with a dedicated teacher, at the new Shaker Middle School: the Makerspace, Coding and Robotics, Simulations, Humanities, Health and Wellness, and Clean Tech.

Sixth graders do each one for six weeks. The labs are constantly evolving.

"They have to learn how to work together. They have to learn to be advocates for themselves, to speak their mind, but also to be good listeners," said teacher Catara Vinson-Westbrook. "They have to learn cooperation, how to negotiate, how to compromise. They also have to learn how to problem-solve."

Students are challenged to be creative thinkers and develop skills they never knew they had.

"It’s a lot of fun because it’s a break from doing all the math and stuff, but it also helps you understand. Because you’re kind of plugging in what you learned from math and science and ELA and stuff like that," said student Grace Clough.

It feels like fun, but it’s carefully designed and teachers collaborate with one another to tie in things from other classes, like inventing systems for Ancient Egypt, which they’re learning about in social studies.

North Colonie elementary schools have their own version of these labs.

"Some students that might be really shy and quiet in the beginning," said Vinson-Westbrook. "Then they’re at the front of the room explaining their invention, and they’re experts, and you can see that they’ve built that confidence for them. Students become leaders in their small groups."

"We’re allowing them the opportunity to dive in in a way that typically kids wouldn’t get to until maybe ninth grade," said Deputy Superintendent Kathleen Skeals. "To introduce students to things that might be really exciting for them at a much earlier age to keep them engaged in school, especially after the pandemic, has been an incredible success for us."