Downstairs from my office in the Barn, what looks like a mess is growing out from the door of our IMPACT Lab. Students sit and work between piles of cardboard and yarn. They reach in all directions for haphazardly folded papers covered in mysterious scribbles. The floor is now an abstract canvas, sectioned off with colorful tape and drawings.
Okay, maybe it’s a bit of a mess at the moment, but learning and innovation are just that—a wonderfully messy process in which ideas come to life.
If you walk through the door of the IMPACT Lab, you’ll see that messy process at a different stage. There’s a 3D model to demonstrate how trees communicate. There’s code written for an AI-powered flight simulator. There’s even a movement zone and cool-down spot for students as they learn about themselves and realize when they need a moment to reset.
In education, we often save our celebrations for finished products like report cards, graduations, and culminating projects. To borrow the thinking of our sixth graders and their pile of cardboard and yarn—we see the beautiful forest landscape, but we don’t see the messy tangle of roots beneath the ground. Learning happens in those tangled roots. It happens in the mess of a rough draft, the initial miscalculations made unlocking a math formula, and the chaotic first rehearsals of a new piece of music.
Our sixth and seventh graders are preparing to share this learning process with the Belmont Day community at next week’s second annual STEAM Expo. With the students, we’ll lift up this mess and acknowledge the plethora of mini and major failures we all go through to succeed. The students will take the lead to teach us what they are learning—how to generate multiple ideas, prototype, fail, and iterate.
In preparing for this year’s expo, alongside innovation coach Brit Conroy and sixth and seventh grade science teachers Bill Hamilton and Maggie Small, I find myself narrowing in on the importance of teaching students to navigate ambiguity (honestly, just another word for ‘mess’).
Students are encouraged to play, explore, and fail in their younger years, and as they get older, they are more confined to the ‘right’ answers and standard processes. When we remove ambiguity and open-ended exploration for students, we make it more difficult for them to meet the challenges and complexities of the future.
Please join us next Tuesday evening for the STEAM Expo and see how we prepare our students to embrace this lifelong mess of learning.
The second annual STEAM Expo will be held on Tuesday, February 8, from 5:30 to 7 p.m. in the Barn gym. Activities will be available for all ages.