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Booker T. Washington High School, Pensacola, Florida

Innovation Center Changes High School Learning
SPARK OF CREATIVITY—Students are encouraged to create and innovate in the Spark Lab at Booker T. Washington High School.
SPARK OF CREATIVITY—Students are encouraged to create and innovate in the Spark Lab at Booker T. Washington High School.
Escambia County School District
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When the Booker T. Washington High School considered transforming its library into an innovation center, it gave birth to a major shift in learning that started in 2015. 

The center includes the Spark Lab Program and Lead Innovator Program. The Spark Lab is for teachers—providing creative and collaborative group projects and engaging students in creative challenges and thinking critically. The Lead Innovator is geared for students, where they train and teach their peers, says Alisha Wilson, innovation specialist.

The Spark Lab is a creative space where students can access supplies and technology to develop new skills. Stocked with foam, fabric scraps and wires, a Lego wall and graffiti wall, the lab sparks collaboration among students. Teachers use it to bring out-of-the-box thinking to assignments—for example, opting for robotic interpretations of Shakespearean scenes.

In one instance, students used robot kits to recreate a scene—a robotic diorama—from Macbeth. The scene was made of a big cardboard box with characters and elements inside (including a table or a night sky that students made using Spark Lab). 

Students learn the intricacies of robotics as well as 3D design and printing. They also perform circuitry projects with snap circuits, electronic invention tools, and chibitronics, which are LED circuit stickers. 

In one project, students wrote an original gothic short story for an English class and then converted it into a script. They designed their sets using Spark Lab supplies, and used ozobots (tiny programmable robots) to act as the characters, and even made costumes for the characters. Each group created a video of their robotic story enactment. 

At the heart of the center is the HP Sprout computer, which allows students to create just about anything they can imagine, including 3D design. 

Beyond that, schools interested in developing such a program should get input and help from multiple stakeholders. Having a committee of teachers who want projects to include new technologies and innovative teaching is the best way to get other teachers and students to learn. It’s also important to work with students to help make purchasing decisions. 

“Using new technologies definitely takes more time, and students often struggle initially to learn how it works, but once they get it, there is such a feeling of accomplishment in knowing that they coded a robot or that they designed something,” says Wilson. “They share with others what they did and how they did it, which is a teacher’s dream.”