Student Innovation Through Bennett Labs: Creating Apps, Books, and 21st Century Learning at Bennett Day School



By Frances Judd, Special Projects Coordinator & 
Early Childhood Tinkering and Engineering Sciences Lab Teacher

I love sharing these photos of enthusiastic and engaged learners at Bennett Day School as they participate in Bennett Labs projects:

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Years ago, before formally joining the faculty and Bennett Labs team, I was able to witness similar enthusiasm at Bennett Day. In this 2014 article written for the Fred Rogers Center, I mention Bennett Day School students engaging enthusiastically in opportunities to tinker, explore, and express themselves through project-based learning.

Now, as I help to coordinate our Bennett Labs app-building projects and game design endeavors, I find myself acting as a conduit for student voices throughout the grades. The synergy between the various grade-levels is fascinating to behold as we help bring student and faculty ideas to life in our school-wide codesign projects. Our school incorporates the design-thinking process into many of our tinkering and engineering projects, as it helps students build confidence, empathy, and ingenuity.

One current school-wide project involves building a new type of kaleidoscope app that utilizes Osmo technology (by Tangible Play Inc.) to encourage hands-on learning, kinesthetic investigations, and social collaboration. In Bennett Day’s Reggio Emilia-inspired learning spaces, it is not uncommon to find students involved in tangible investigations with mirrors and reflective surfaces as they explore the mathematical and scientific underpinnings of symmetry. This form of learning served as the inspiration for our Osmo Kaleidoscope App, which will ultimately be a captivating tool for observation, creativity, and childhood play. Children of most ages will feel empowered to use interesting hand-held objects and kinesthetic engagement as they interact with this new form of kaleidoscope.

We first began our Osmo Kaleidoscope App project this past fall when we gave each Bennett Day School classroom a set of old-fashioned kaleidoscopes to explore. We then held weekly design sessions at every grade-level where our student-designers could investigate existing digital kaleidoscopes found in the App Store. Our inquiries discovered various flaws and shortcomings of these digital tools when used by young children. We were then able to create an early app prototype after incorporating these student findings, opinions, and suggestions.

Fourth grade students recently used Unity app-building software to add new lines of script to our prototype app, which was an invaluable moment for these young makers and co-designers. At Bennett Day School, we believe that all community members should learn and grow together by engaging with the real world, so these opportunities to learn new skills are also important for me as an educator, as I learn alongside our students. We look forward to sending our final app to the App Store this summer.

It is so rewarding to co-design with our creative PK-4th grade students, as we welcome them into the world of digital design and app development. We are building an entrepreneurial spirit in our school through this new type of “lemonade stand,” that includes the creation of iPad apps, card games, and book publishing. It is my goal to help us stay on mission as we work collaboratively to inspire this new generation of children, using methods that are relevant, forward-thinking, and helpful to the broader community outside of our school walls.

Bennett Labs continues to innovate in more and more creative ways, as first-grade teacher, Simon Lockwood-Bean, is coordinating our school’s first venture into the world of children’s book publishing. Inspired by his kindergarten class’ writing during the 2018-2019 school year, Mr. Lockwood-Bean spent the last year building their story into a fully-fledged picture book to be released in the coming months. During the process, students from around the school had opportunities to provide input and reflect on the project as it grew and evolved, providing yet another chance for the iterative process behind design-thinking.

“Bringing ideas to life from the classroom and into the real-world is part of the educational experience at Bennett Day,” shares Cameron Smith, who is the CEO and Co-Founder of the school. Cameron oversees Bennett Labs and is also a school parent.

Coordinating projects with students, universities, and tech companies will be increasingly fulfilling as we open our Upper School this fall.  Some of these investigations on the drawing board are also part of our lab school partnership with Northwestern University. Keep an eye out for more news on all of these Bennett Labs projects as we continue to further the mission of the school, generate resources for our community, and open avenues for students to work on creative teams with professionals in their field.


Come learn more about student innovation at Bennett Day by joining us for an upcoming event or information session!