Elizabeth Forward Middle School is the third school in the country—the first public—to install SMALLab, an opportunity made possible with a $20,000 Allegheny Intermediate Unit grant. SMALLab fits into AIU’s STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) initiative, which itself fits into the nationwide STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) movement.
Officially founded in 2010, SMALLab Learning’s title project (which stands for Situated Multimedia Arts Learning Laboratory) had been in the works for several years. Dr. David Birchfield led a collaborative team of nine co-inventors and twelve contributors at Arizona State University. The group included designers, educators, and researchers from disciplines as diverse as performing arts and computer science, among many others.
The goal, says Birchfield, was to find a “holistic way to blend the disciplines” in a physically active experience. This is “embodied learning,” which is the combination of kinesthetic, collaborative, and multimodal components—people learning through their bodies and by working together.
Aside from the obvious change in the basic classroom structure, there are also nods to other shifts in what is now being considered fundamental to education. Teachers are not physically the head of the class in SMALLab; they are not the center of the action.
“Instead of Sage on the Stage, it’s more Guide on the Side,” says EF Superintendent Bart Rocco. This empowers students and allows them to become active participants in the learning process. With the technology itself, students and teachers are often learning side-by-side—or, as is sometimes the case, the students are the ones doing the teaching. But content-wise, interactive and collaborative learning encourage students to take charge of the material and their use of it.