Learning How to Learn: The CFS iLab

There is a buzz of activity in the Cambridge Friends School iLab, as the youngest students, in pre-Kindergarten through grade two, try out their ideas and test the materials set up to spark their ingenuity and curiosity. After a brief explanation and demonstration of the items on the various tables, iLab co-curator and early childhood teacher Kevin Edmond steps back to let the students experiment and discover on their own. Observing how the students approach and interact with the materials, he notes what is working and how the stations could be set up differently in the future. Always a presence, Kevin hovers without intervening, in case students need his assistance.
It is no accident that the iLab’s physical space is scaled to be just the right size for the youngest CFS students. Together with head of school Peter Sommer and co-curator Katy Boelter-Dimock, Kevin helped give birth to the iLab. He worked closely with contractor Mike Dawson on the overall design, making the iLab intentionally accessible for students aged four through eight. From the adjustable work tables and the height of the tool racks and material shelves, to the green screen, bright colors on the walls, overhead ceiling rails with universal plugs, overstuffed chair near the books, and added rugs to bring in color, much consideration was given to the ages of children who would use this space and what tools and materials they would need for their explorations. The CFS iLab is a learning model that visitors from Brazil, Egypt, and Los Angeles have traveled to Cambridge Friends School to experience.
Before students arrive in the iLab, Kevin visits their classrooms to see what is sparking interest, as well as what interests needs to be piqued. Coordinating with teachers, he also researches projects that would complement the classroom curriculum to deepen students’ understanding of concepts. With no existing, off-the-shelf curriculum, Kevin is developing one for the CFS iLab – one that has projects independent from the classroom but complementary to it. For example, simple machines were introduced in the classroom and then tested in the iLab – a complementary curriculum. An electrode attached to a finger that generates sounds when touching a banana (and what happens when you link hands) is an independent iLab investigation that sparks thinking, which is carried back to the classrooms.
What students learn through discovery in the iLab, whether from a complementary curricular piece or an independent iLab investigation, informs additional classroom inquiry. It is a continual process of students learning, exploring, testing, and posing further questions. The back and forth interplay of classroom and iLab is how learning how to learn takes place and the seeds of life-long learning are planted.

Learning How to Learn: The CFS iLab, (Connections, Winter/Spring 2016)
Educating independent thinkers for over 55 years in grades PK-8