At the start of our school year a large expanse of white paper hung outside Breakwater’s main office. It said simply, “What are you curious about?”
Children filled the blank space with their questions. What is wind? Why is there gravity? Could a pig really fly? What is inside a fluorescent light? How does a vacuum work? What is a black hole? What are feelings? Does everyone see color the same way? What is inside a battery? What is memory? Could the Millennium Falcon really make the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs? Actually... what is a parsec, anyway?
Students at Breakwater are supported by their teachers and peers as they actively try to make sense of the world around them. Children look, listen, and touch. They make, move, and innovate. They ask, answer, and deconstruct. Children at Breakwater are not simply practicing to become - they are. They are writers, historians, mathematicians, scientists, and playful children.
This hands-on, curiosity based approach to education is embodied in our existing tinkering program, formally begun in 2009. The next step in the evolution of this curriculum and expansion of space is … the John Knight Curiosity Lab.
At Breakwater, the Curiosity Lab will provide rich streams of experiences, questioning and novelty, fostering “conversations with phenomena” via art, tinkering, making, and other opportunities to interact with the Lab’s library of tools, materials, technologies and interactive components. Here youth are encouraged to ask how does it work (deconstructing the thing), why does it work that way (exploring the theoretical, historical and social elements of the thing) and how could it work (re-imagining or reinventing the thing). The ultimate goals are to not only spark curiosity, but scaffold it so that learners are guided into deeper exploration and mastery, and to help learners not only develop key readiness skills such as STEM, grit, resilience and self-confidence, but also a broader curiosity mindset that prepares them to be active contributors, creators and entrepreneurs.
The current schedule is to build out the basic structure of the Curiosity Lab at Breakwater and launch before the start of the 2017/2018 school year! Curriculum development, planning and design are well underway. In advance of the school site launch, we are piloting programming in our current tinkering space and through Pop-Up Labs in the greater community. The first Pop-Up Lab appeared this summer at Mechanics Hall in downtown Portland as part of the Maine StartUp and Create Week. (A picture is worth a thousand words- definitely visit curiosity.life for more info. A few pics below.)
In November the John Knight Curiousity Lab was awarded a 2016 Blackboard Charitable Giving Program grant. The Blackboard Charitable Giving Program ‘recognizes nonprofit organizations whose outstanding work is helping provide a world with increased opportunity for all through better access to education and technology.’ Receiving this award is recognition of the good work that has built the existing tinkering program, and the growth and ingenuity that is possible under the guidance of Erin Knight, Breakwater’s Director of Strategy and Innovation, and chief idea-haver of the Curiosity Lab.
This grant will support the ongoing development and construction of the Curiosity Lab in 2017, which in turn will expand and evolve Breakwater’s capacity to provide a truly inspirational and inventive space for the curious minds of all students.