It’s Period 4 in Engineering and Design at Westfield High School and students are getting ready to build a pinhole camera, a light proof box that uses a small hole in one side as an aperture to project an inverted image on the opposite side of the box.
“Remember that I need to check your technical drawing before you start to build,” says instructor Laura Doyle.
What’s as impressive as this new course offering, part of the district’s continued commitment to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education, is the room in which it is taught.
This once traditional space has been transformed into an Innovation Classroom with a digital presentation podium, LED lighting, laptops with computer aided design (CAD) capabilities, motorized window shades, retractable ceiling mounted power cords, and furniture on wheels.
“I love having the flexibility to arrange the room for cooperative learning in small groups, large groups, teams of 2, and whole group instruction,” Doyle says. “The engineering curriculum we are using focuses on hands-on learning in teams, so the traditional practice of having the teacher and the chalkboard at the front of the room with all desks in rows would hinder our ability to learn in such a manner.”
Doyle says her students look forward to the arrival of a 3-D printer and a laser engraver in the coming months. And she notes that the furniture has been arranged in at least 8 different ways since school began, enabling efficient use of time and fostering “a collegial environment.”
“I like the movable tables and the fact that everything is on wheels. It helps with sharing and collaboration,” says 11th grader Thomas Davis. “The motorized shades also help us with this project because we can easily create a darkened environment to test our cameras.”
Senior Rebecca Wolfe also praises the ease at which the classroom can be rearranged. “I like the rolling chairs and furniture so we can do many different setups, especially for groups,” she says. “We can change the whole layout quickly.”
On this particular day, Doyle and the students use the hover camera feature on the interactive workstation to magnify and inspect the pinhole on their devices. “Even the tiniest flaw can make a difference in terms of the light coming in,” says Doyle.
“Ever since I was a child, I wanted to be an engineer and build things and figure out the problems of the world,” says James Peretz, a senior who plans to study engineering in college.
Work on turning the space into the Innovation Classroom began over the summer after the district received a generous grant of more than $93,000 from the Westfield Foundation Bogaert Fund which honors longtime resident and philanthropist Betty Bogaert who died in 2016 at the age of 94.
“We are grateful to the Westfield Foundation for its generosity,” says Paul Pineiro, assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction, and programs. “Ultimately the goal is for every square inch of the Innovation Classroom to contribute to learning and to be flexible. We are preparing our students to work in innovation fields that are in great demand right now and to get them familiar through problem-solving and project-based activities. If we’re going to encourage them and expect them to try different things, then our classroom needs to support that way of learning.”
In addition to Engineering and Design, the Innovation Classroom currently houses other classes and is a meeting place for the Robotics Club as well.
“Although WHS Robotics is still growing into the new Innovation Room, the club has utilized much of the technology available there,” says club advisor Mark Harper. “What strikes me is how much of the use has been student-driven. Students today are comfortable in a connected, technology-laden environment.”
Harper says Robotics Club members have used many of the available tools to facilitate the design process, including the movable furniture, projection system, and erasable surfaces. “The club has also utilized both the whiteboard and the glass board to communicate their thinking graphically and orally to other club members,” says Harper.
Superintendent Dr. Margaret Dolan says the district hopes to expand the use of the Innovation Classroom next year and beyond.
“It’s inspiring to see our high school students so engaged in the new Innovation Classroom,” says Dolan. “We look forward to building on our engineering and STEM programs in the coming years so that we can offer this unique learning experience to more of our students.”