Inaugural afterschool program in Falls Church results in “genius” learning outcomes

We finished our inaugural afterschool enrichment program at Thomas Jefferson Elementary School in Falls Church City with fun, hands-on STEM lessons that children loved, self-reflection that generated amazing feedback, and an invitation to return!

We’ll be back at TJ in the Winter and Spring! Read the course catalog and register for our Innovation Lab: Winter Edition class here. We were also invited to offer Innovation Lab at Charles Barrett ES in Alexandria! Read the course catalog and register here.

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We asked students at TJ to self-reflect on what they liked and learned from the class, as well as think about they learned about themselves.  They said amazing things!

What did you learn?

– How to innovate
– I am a good builder at spacecrafts
– I learned how to test water and that you can create lots of things
– That if you keep trying eventually you’ll get it right
– That you can use a lot of resources

What did you learn about yourself?

– That I am capable of innovating many things
– That I love building
– That I can do any of the experiments if I keep trying
– That I am an Engineer
– I learned I have an inner genius
– I can work with a team
– It’s good to embrace failure & I’m a lot smarter than I thought!

Class Descriptions

In our last three classes at TJ, students embraced failure as they built hovercrafts, let out their inner innovator as they invented empathetic innovations, and created Chain Reactions in a student-driven lesson.


Hovercrafts: Students became aeronautical engineers and designed hovercraft that stayed within a wind tunnel. The class featured an open, creative build and students had their pick of materials with which to fashion a hovercraft. It took them many tries to find the right combination of weight, materials, and surface area to hover in the tunnel, but each failed try was a chance to learn and Embrace Failure! Students successfully hovered their crafts and showed a lot of creativity and inventive thinking with materials. Each student also made a small paper helicopter to learn more about the day’s STEM theme, which was air pressure and molecules in air. Watch the pride on their faces!


Empathy-driven Innovations: We like to start each class by reminding students that they have an Inner Genius in them, and they can be the world’s next Innovator and Changemaker for good – once they learn the knowledge and skills they need to succeed. Towards the end of the session, students let out that Inner Genius with a “free build.” Students were encouraged to use the 21st Century Skill of the Day, Empathy, to make a prototype of an invention that would help make life better. They also learned about Design Thinking and how it is a way of engineering that supports and drives innovation. To implement Design Thinking, their inventions need to be collaborative, empathetic, and feature a rapid prototype. There were many innovations to help parents with their work at home, such as an automatic iron and cleaning robot, an automatic Dog-Player, a sensing funnel, and a toy with cool features to keep the baby entertained. Several ideas built on student’s understanding of current events, such as armor, sturdy buildings, and animal protection drones. This student strugged to find an idea, until he thought about ways to help his parents. Watch some of their great ideas here.


Chain Reactions: Students picked the topic for their last class, and both classes picked Chain Reactions. They learned about Rube Goldberg’s Chain Reaction machines and then tried “simple” and more complex Chain Reactions. The activity perfectly blended multiple STEM themes and 21st Century Life Skills. Chain Reactions required patience, partnership, and creativity – watch some here. Watch students really love explaining their chain reactions.