What do you get when you cross a library and a laboratory?
There isn’t a punchline, but the answer is still pretty delightful: You get a “libratory.”
In Colorado, New Emerson Elementary staff and students decided to design a space that combined the best aspects of a library and a laboratory, creating one of the nation’s only libratories.
Staff explained to me that, because New Emerson is a STEAM magnet school, they wanted to incorporate engineering and design qualities into the school library. So, they gradually transformed the library into a creative space where books mingle with makerspace projects.
I was fascinated by the libratory idea and curious about what it meant to students. Fortunately, fifth-graders at New Emerson were only too happy to talk with me about it.
“It’s really cool that we get to have all this flexibility,” said Nic Pinnt, who wants to be a robotics engineer when he grows up. “On Tuesdays we get to do makerspace and we can just build and do fun stuff like that.”
“If you have an idea, you can build it,” echoed Maya McCall, who hopes to become a chemist. “That really helps you figure out what you should change or what you should add.”
“It’s really interesting because we don’t just learn about math and writing, we also learn about technology and digital citizenship and how to be kind online and offline,” added Pedro Medina, who wants to invent new technology to help schools and businesses run more easily.
As we talked, I realized these fifth-graders don’t merely use the libratory. They helped design it!
Before the libratory was built, New Emerson students researched and brainstormed what combining a library and a laboratory might look like.
Fifth-grader Kate Fricke was part of the design team, working to gather student ideas to share with a group of professionals who helped bring the students’ dreams to life.
“Everyone got to put their ideas together and build it,” said Maya. “[The libratory project] included a bunch of different subjects, so we were working on it in almost every subject area.”
“They came up with things we never would have thought of,” said the libratory coordinator, Miranda Bailey. “It was extra work for everyone to make it happen, but we couldn’t let them down. Their ideas were too amazing.”
The students chose flexible seating with various types of chairs and places to work standing up. The libratory features computer and robotics sections, free spaces to create in, and a special reading area.
“I really like this reading clubhouse that we’ve been working on,” explained Pedro. “It’s like a loft and you can go upstairs and learners can read. On the bottom there are materials we can use to build: wooden blocks and marble connectors and cubes.”
Why is it so vital that students, like those at New Emerson, have space to be makers and creators?
New Emerson principal Terry Schmalz shares this perspective, “We believe students need to be able to problem-solve and be creative and innovative. Those are some of the skills they’ll need after they leave us. Going through the making process, the design process, the engineering process, and working collaboratively really does build those skills.”
One of the key themes I heard from these fifth-graders was about how flexibility and space to create made them excited to learn. The other theme was kindness.
“We’ve really been focused on kindness and have a gratitude wall that we put sticky notes on, like what we’re thankful or grateful for,” shared Kate. “I think that really helps our learning.”
“I really like that everybody’s kind,” added Pedro. “We learn how to be kind and, if you see someone that’s alone, how to help them and just be friends with them.”
These fifth-grade designers were full of enthusiasm about learning and kindness. You can tell from listening to them how New Emerson Elementary School is a special place, purposefully designed for student happiness.
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