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The Hillside School Innovation Lab

Introduced in the fall of 2015, Hillside’s iLab has quickly become a centerpiece of both our campus and our program.  The iLab represents an important educational shift toward 21st century skill building, creative expression, and problem solving.  It stimulates curiosity and active engagement, while deemphasizing passive learning and teacher-centered instruction.  The success of the iLab has been measured by faculty enthusiasm, parent encouragement, and most importantly the overwhelmingly positive response from our students.  The only downsides of the new iLab have been the rapid outgrowing of our current space and the challenge of meeting students’ demands for more iLab access.

The Hillside iLab pushes students to collaborate and generate ideas together – white board walls and tables help simple concepts become more formulated plans of action.  Boys jot down their thoughts and then – just as easily – modify, add to, or abandon their notions as the ideation process unfolds.  In line with the 21st century approach, students are asked to see mistakes and failures as an acceptable and even helpful aspect of learning.  iLab projects frequently require several “drafts” and many written, erased, and rewritten whiteboard notes and doodles.

iLab equipment includes 3D printers and a laser cutter with which students can see and feel their ideas materialize in front of them.  From a replica ping-pong table 3D printed with no detail overlooked to a laser cut puzzle depicting the fifty US states, Hillside boys have found the iLab technology to be an open invitation to creativity. 

The iLab has also introduced students to the exciting world of robotics.  Using Tetrix Max and Ev3 systems, boys work collaboratively to build, program, and command robots.  As the robot evolves from individual parts to a functioning unit, students appreciate the process and then ultimately celebrate the outcome.  The result is a highly rewarding educational experience that defies the traditional formula of content consumption and memorization followed by summative assessments.

Multi-sensory, dynamic offerings make the iLab a popular destination for boys who typically find success in the classroom as well as those who may struggle in core academic courses.  The iLab provides a level playing field where all students – and teachers – are learning together and guiding each other toward a shared objective.  Coding – a concept with intimidating connotations to even the most tech-savvy adult – is presented as another opportunity for outcome focused learning.  Hillside iLab students use coding to program drones and app-enabled Sphero robots.  The boys receive immediate feedback (through the response of the drone or Sphero) to their work and then revise, reprogram, and troubleshoot until their desired result is achieved.

While most students would describe the iLab as one of the most fun locations on campus, it offers so much more than an entertaining diversion from the rigors of math, science, language, and history classes.  Competencies including creativity, entrepreneurism, and conceptualism are developed as the boys also learn to work through errors, problem solve, and collaborate.  The benefits of these skills will be essential to our students as they prepare for the next stages of their education and for life in an ever-changing, high-tech world.  We feel fortunate to allow them the unique advantage of the iLab and proud to be on the forefront of this new educational frontier.     

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