Skills narrative sets iSchool apart from other enrichment classes

iSchool builds all of its programming around our core curriculum that builds 21st Century Life Skills. This sets us apart from other organizations offering STEAM programs and is the reason for our success. In spring 2016 we offered two classes at  Thomas Jefferson Elementary School in Falls Church: our introductory Innovation Lab 1 class, which introduces core skills, and Innovation Lab 2, which continues more in-depth development of life skills. On the surface, classes appear to be about science and engineering, but the narrative in class is focused on skills development. Register for our Fall 2016 classes at TJ.


Highlights from Innovation Lab 2

For instance, one class in our Innovation Lab 2 was, the surface, about rockets and eggs. But classroom prompts, discussion topics, questions for reflection, and points for celebration were about collaboration, brainstorming, improvement, and expanding worldviews. Students started by brainstorming individual ideas for a rocket with an egg payload and put these up to share. They rapidly saw that individuals can come up with 1, 2, or 3 ideas, but the power of a collaborative group can yield many more. They then “snowballed” the ideas, improving on their own and those of others. This expanded their worldview, showing that there is no need for a wall between “my ideas” and “our ideas” – especially when the collective ones are better. We ran out of time and had technical difficulties so students didn’t even get to shoot off their rockets – but it didn’t matter! Students were excited because they had already found personal success by harnessing the power of a group to make their own ideas better.


To end the year we spent time talking about Empathy and the role it will play in their lives as they grow and try to make the world a better place. For many students it was the first time they had heard the word and the first time they had considered what Empathy is versus Sympathy. We also spent time doing self-reflections, with students answering the question “What did you learn about yourself”:

– I got better at Communication

– “That I can do stuff that I think I can’t do”

– “I liked how we challenged ourselves and pushed ourselves to get our inner genius out and how we learned from our mistakes. I learned I can use my inner genius to do great things and change the world”

– “I used to have a Fixed Mindset but when I came here I learned that a Growth Mindset would help you achieve success… achieve your failures”

– “When I came here I learned that you can do what you feel free to do”

– “I learned Empathy. [Before] A few people said Empathy but I didn’t know what it means”

– “I liked everything. It was really fun.”

– “When I’m trying to make new friends Empathy will be really good.”


In one class students worked on Communication, Perseverance (especially related to self-regulation), Teamwork, and Project Management skills. First children worked in teams to build Lego structures. During the first round, they spoke to each other while taking turns. In the second round, they had to be silent and only use gestures. We took some time to reflect on difficulties and solutions for communicating well. We then moved on to our engineering project. Children followed a Project Management Process – with brainstorming, planning, executing, and learning from results – to build towers that would hold a rocket upright. To make it fun – and to encourage perseverance due to the fragile nature of the materials – we used marshmallows and spaghetti as our building materials! See a video from this May 5 class.

The combination of skills development, hands-on Creative STEM learning, and out-of-the-box activities is highly engaging for children. In one class students blended two lessons Marble Roller Coasters and Wind Tunnel – a combination that was “the most fun I’ve ever had!”

Highlights from Innovation Lab 1

Our last class in Innovation Lab 1 highlighted the creativity and caring of our students. Students learned about Empathy, compared it to sympathy, and then learned about the role empathy plays in innovations, Design Thinking (and the combination of prototypes, collaboration, and empathy), and human-centric inventions. After comparing scenarios to identify human-centric designs, students then worked on making prototypes of inventions that showed empathy. Watch a video of children explaining their prototypes.


We also ask children to do self-reflections, a critical tool for growth. In response to “What did you learn” and “What did you learn about yourself” children said:

– About feelings. How to understand people if they are sad or happy.
– I learned that I can be more creative. Sometimes at home I’m kind of bored, so if I can be more creative then I won’t be bored
– That’s a hard question because I learned so much.
– I learned that everyone has an inner genius.
– I learned that sometimes I work better by myself that with a partner
– I learned that I can do anything – like even though I am not really a scientist I can still do anything a scientist does. It makes me feel happy.
– I learned that there is a difference between learning or thinking or knowing and doing
– I’m a being in charge type person
– I learned that not all inventions are great but you can improve them.
– I liked how it was not too big of a group of us and it was group work and we were building cool inventions and stuff.
– I learned that I am very creative and can make actual really good things that people can use – out of old stuff

In another class we helped children think about Communication, Collaboration, and Appreciation using some out-of-the-box and fun techniques. Students worked in teams to build with Legos, first using nonverbal communication and then by speaking. We spent time reflecting on challenges and solutions to communicating. We also took students out of their comfort zones by insisting they work with new partners, which helped expand perspectives and led to a real sense of camaraderie and fun. Our STEM activity also required collaboration and communication, but also asked students to Appreciate differences. They tested a number of clear liquids to see how they would react physically or chemically. These always popular explosions were a great way to learn about Appreciation! Here is a joyful video from class.


We showcased the power of collaboration in many classes. In one class children collaborated to come up with at least two ideas per group for making water rockets. They then worked in their teams to bring those ideas to life. Teamwork for young children is hard, and so we guided them through the process by working with each team individually to brainstorm, assess, and choose ideas, and then work as a team to bring the parts together. Along the way they learned about molecules in air and air pressure and had a lot of fun shooting off the rockets.

Our unique approach builds life skills and changes perspectives:

“What did you think of science before?”
“I liked it, but now I love it.”

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