Sts. Simon & Jude Catholic School in Huntington Beach recently unveiled its new Innovation Lab and with its launch, ignited both curiosity and enthusiasm.

During the unveiling, which was held last month, Karen Castelblanco’s fifth grade class coded robots and demonstrated how asking questions can combine with modern technology to make learning not only fun, but also a path to the future.

Erin Watson, lab facilitator and educational administrator at the school, explained just what an Innovation Lab entails.

“It’s a place for kids to create, invent things and solve problems,” she said. “Some may wonder why we don’t have basements in California. To solve a problem like this, we would build examples to show that there are things under the ground that would shake more in an earthquake.”

The Innovation Lab offers an array of learning possibilities for students. Some students will explore things like Legos or robots. Other times, it will be a project related to their classroom.

“The second graders are going to be doing a play in a few months, and they’ll make their costumes and their sets,” said Watson.

The Innovation Lab is geared for students in TYKES through fifth grade. For middle schoolers, their lab experience is a video production elective where they learn to write films and create a short film by the end of the year.

According to principal Denise Grant, the Innovation Lab will have two purposes: one being an enhancement or ancillary tool for current curriculum and one for student agency projects.

“Optimum student engagement and growth in critical thinking skills will signify success,” said Grant. “I believe we have the next Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla or Stephanie Kwolek.”

The lab is an addition to the curriculum and does not displace existing programs, although some of it parallels STEM classes.

It’s designed to accommodate the needs of classroom teachers for their own curriculums. Funds are available to purchase additional items as needed.

The Innovation Lab offers a spectrum of high-tech equipment including Legos, K’nex, 3D printers, crafting materials, iPads, cameras, video production and even a mundane sewing machine, spaced
out along the walls of the school’s former computer lab.

The furniture itself inspires creativity and is made to fit both 4-year-olds and 12-year-olds. Wedge-shaped cushions can be flipped on either side of each other to adjust height or combined with each other to form a bench. Green barrel-shaped seats can be stacked.

“The idea is that everyone learns differently,” explained Watson, “so we have a creative space where they can learn creatively.”

Students and parents agree.

“I love it,” said fifth grader Grace Doyle. “We get to work with lots of new things. It will be a good year.”

Rowena Monethi, an engineer and parent of a first grader, said she had never had such training herself.

“It’s so cool to see kids at this age getting exposed to STEM activity.”

Fr. Mike Rizzo, parochial vicar at Sts. Simon and Jude, said he likes the way that the lab is a team effort.

“Here, children get the opportunity to be creative,” he said. “It prepares them for life.”