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Bryan Innovation Lab Transforming Education through Creativity and Productivity

Can the design of a building, a classroom space, and the surrounding environment make a difference in how teachers teach and students learn? Absolutely! The Steward School’s new Bryan Innovation Lab is a perfect example of how school administrators, teachers, architects and designers worked together to create a new learning environment and curriculum focused on preparing our students for the challenges of the future. Watch Science Matters’ video of opening day to discover how this unique learning lab promotes creativity, productivity and innovation in a fun and engaging way.

The Steward School, an independent school for grades JK-12 in Henrico County, recently opened the Bryan Innovation Lab - a 21st century problem-solving environment. Combining unique architectural elements, state of the art technology, and multiple outdoor learning environments, both the building and the surrounding grounds have been developed to inspire experimentation and exploration of real world problems.

Headmaster, Ken Seward and The Steward School faculty spent several years dreaming of a space where students could interact with their environment and begin to question everything about it. Seward explains that their goal is to “prepare students with a new set of skills to excel in the 21st century; they will be adaptable, resourceful and know the right questions to ask. We’re training them for jobs that don’t yet exist.” While in the Bryan Lab, Seward wants students to start to behave differently. “When they walk from their usual classroom to the Bryan Innovation Lab we want changes to occur, we want students to start asking questions and problem solving.” Seward says that “two things are required if students are to learn to be innovators - the freedom to be creative and the drive to be productive.

How can the design of a building play a part in helping students and teachers accomplish these goals? Chris Lundberg, Resident Scientist of the Bryan Innovation Lab explains that by merging the indoors and the outdoors in a unique and novel way they have designed an environment that fosters creativity. 

The 6,200 square foot facility includes interior spaces which are flexible – interior walls move and double as white boards, so students can diagram their ideas right on the wall. The exterior walls open to bring the great outdoors inside. The building is made of tons of glass, offering great views of the pond, wetlands and the woods - all great for inspiration, reflection and exploration. Want to understand how a building works? All of the building’s energy systems are exposed and students can monitor energy production and usage. There is an indoor and outdoor kitchen, gardens and a wellness studio for students to explore the mind and body connection. Two large “innovation studios” are filled with the tools and resources students need to explore science, art and technology. Here, the traditional textbook goes out the window, and the building and its natural environment become the learning material.

Lundberg explains how the curriculum and the building together make it possible for students to explore three main content areas:

  • Energy and resources- Students focus on the building itself as they monitor the energy the building produces and the energy it consumes. They will then take this study of energy and resources and apply their discoveries to other environments and situations.
  • Health and wellness – Students learn about the mind and body connection - what makes us healthy as individuals, communities and the world.  Students grow, harvest and prepare healthy food.
  • The natural environment and what impact man has on our environment-  Using the surrounding gardens, pond and wetlands, students conduct water quality testing and specimen collection to determine how healthy our environment is and what we can do to improve it.   

Click here for more on the Bryan Innovation Lab Curriculum.

The Bryan Innovation Lab is not just for Steward students. Part of the mission of the Lab is to share the space and programming with the greater Richmond community. Seward hopes the Lab will be a gathering place for students of all ages to question and learn.

Registration is currently open for Bryan Innovation Lab Summer Camps (Click here for PDF). Preschoolers through ninth graders will find a range of activities from gardening and cooking to crime scene investigation. The camps are open to students from all school systems. Throughout the school year, special speakers will be featured and many presentations and activities will be open to the public. For more information on public lectures, continue to check The Steward School’s website.

John Emmerly defines innovation as “creativity with a job to do.” The Bryan Innovation Lab is a great addition to our community and is working to “get the job done.” Here’s to helping develop our next generation of innovators!

Article by Debbie Mickle, Science Matters Project Manager

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