8 minute read

BUILDING CREATIVE CAPACITY Why Innovation Works So Well for Our Students

By Sam Gerlach

At Benchmark, our dynamic school-wide innovation program is the core of engaged learning, designed for the depth and breadth of our student’s experience, and is an integrated part of daily instruction. The Innovation Labs serve as a catalyst for multi-modal classroom learning and as a playground for our students to discover, imagine, explore, and make meaningful connections that further their personal and academic growth.

Benchmark’s signature innovative approach

The core of our innovative approach is grounded by Benchmark’s specific design thinking language and process. At every grade level, we have embedded design thinking and problem-based learning, guiding our students in using our design thinking process. From design thinking sprints that take place in both Lower and Middle School Innovation Labs, to the 6th and 7th grade culminating capstone projects, the integration of age-appropriate maker space education builds our students’ creative capacities and agency.

Through teacher-initiated engineering challenges, student-initiated inquiry-based projects, and disciplinespecific approaches, our students further develop “the 4 C’s” of critical thinking, creative problem-solving, collaboration, and communication.

Why is this approach important for today’s students?

Students today are digital natives who work best when they feel a personal connection to the material and the problems they are asked to solve. The combination

Fairy Tale Problem Solving

A great example of a teacher-initiated engineering challenge is the Fairy Tale Project that Karen Berry’s class completed this year.

The students had two choices. In the first, students could be Little Red Riding Hood and their task was to create a basket that could hold a lunch that they were going to have with their grandmother. In the alternative, students could be the fourth little pig and they had to build a house out of certain materials that were in the Innovation Lab that could withstand the howling winds from the big bad wolf.

Creativity was at the center of this project. Working on the problem brewed excitement and generated creative problem-solving and collaboration among the first graders, whether they were trying to create the strongest wall for the front of their piggy’s house or the best basket handle that would be both practical and aesthetically pleasing.

of traditional learning, effective use of technology, and a maker space approach designed for creative problem-solving along lines of interest allow for a deep connection to content and concepts. We know that engagement is activated when students are the drivers of their own learning. That student agency builds confident learners and increases the capacity for risktaking in general. When creative problem-solving is at the core of learning, our students’ creative capacities grow and flourish in all areas of school life.

Benchmark’s innovation programming is designed to help students see and develop novel approaches to problems by combining creativity with rigor in traditional disciplines. Part of the engagement factor in Benchmark’s innovation programming is that students can draw from their education to look for novel solutions to particular problems—integrating learning from all areas of the approach.

This approach to problem-based learning incorporates the wide range of skills and habits of mind developed at every grade level while placing individual student interests at the center of the process. Our program is designed in a particular sequence so that students gain more confidence and practice with these innovative approaches each year. Culminating projects in the form of grade-level capstones invite students to be the agents of their own learning.

How is it different from traditional learning?

Our innovative programming and approach allow for student choice and passion-driven projects. It also engages with a variety of thinking routines. Our maker space approach involves learning processes that require renderings (drawn, built, digital) that make thinking visible. In this way, students can better understand their thinking, what they know, what they are trying to express, and how to find clarity in their ideas.

Our design thinking approach provides students with opportunities to combine their personal passions with rigorous learning through a scaffolded creative problem-solving practice: empathizing (Wonder & Connect), defining (Describe & Clarify), ideating (Imagine Possibilities), prototyping and testing (Design & Create), and reflecting (Share, Reflect & Revise).

Our approach to design thinking combines empathybased inquiry with hands-on engineering and creation, which strengthens our unique student-centered approach to differentiated learning. Failure is welcomed, discovery is required, and collaboration is a must. The Innovation Labs and their approach help support a wide range of learners and thinking routines. In the Innovation Lab, the one size fits all mentality of

• traditional learning practices is tossed out the window, and each student has the capabilities to further their own learning and academic journey.

What are the particular benefits to neurodiverse learners?

Being a neurodiverse learner myself, when I was first introduced to maker space education during my middle school years, I was the first student in and the last one out. The learning environment of the Innovation Lab feels like a melting pot of science, art, and gym classes, where freedom of expression meets the creativity of thought. Kinesthetic learning supports our students’ complex idea development, memory retention, and motor skills. In this type of learning, the left and right brain hemispheres work in tandem, making the intended learning and concepts more memorable, easier to retrieve at a later date, and integrated into other learning. These practices will build creative capacities for children to combine creative thinking with their work in other academic disciplines, simultaneously developing and building upon the executive function skills that Benchmark supports.

In a research study done during the inaugural year of the 6th grade capstone project on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, four congruent themes emerged. Students, while being guided in utilizing the design thinking process, frequently demonstrated primary executive function skills:

• Planning and organizing, mostly surrounding ideation and brainstorming.

• Cognitive shift, with an emphasis on problemsolving and considering different perspectives.

• • Persistence and maintaining effort, making sure to be able to get “unstuck.”

• • Staying engaged and attentive, highlighting the importance of students driving their own learning.

Preparing students for high school and life after Benchmark

Innovative programming combined with traditional learning is not only a way to bring out the best in each of our students but also allows us to be responsive in teaching the skills and habits of mind that a fast-moving and complex world will demand. In short, we give them the kind of education that makes them future-ready. Our commitment to critical thinking, creative problem solving, collaboration, and communication (the 4 C’s), forges habits of mind that will ensure their success in a global economy that is ever in flux, while simultaneously creating a foundation for our students to make positive contributions as community members and global citizens.

Congratulations Class of 2023!

We are so proud of you and how far you’ve come.

We know you have a very bright future ahead, and we can’t wait to see what you do next.

Bryan Behrens

What is your favorite memory from Benchmark? Being on the soccer team with my friends and the bus rides to games.

Benchmark has taught me... ...how to problem solve on my own.

Will Biscardi

What is your favorite memory from Benchmark? The Dorney Park Project.

Benchmark has taught me... ...how to persevere.

Mckenna Black

What is your favorite memory from Benchmark?

Making new friends.

Benchmark has taught me... ...to have confidence in myself.

Jayson Blum

Words of the Wiser for Younger Students

Focus on the present and what you can accomplish instead of worrying about the future.

Benchmark has taught me... ...to be confident in myself. It is ok to be unique, you can always be different and have something that you are really good at.

Mac Cahill

What is your favorite memory from Benchmark?

Baking a cake in math.

Benchmark has taught me... ...that Marco Polo and William Howard Taft share a birthday.

Beckett Charriez

What is your favorite memory from Benchmark?

When I went on the Gettysburg trip.

Words of the Wiser for Younger Students

Do not procrastinate. It’s a slippery slope that never ends.

Chris DeStefano

What is your favorite memory from Benchmark?

Playing football with my friends at recess.

Words of the Wiser for Younger Students

You can do anything that you set your mind to.

Taylor Dyson

What is your favorite memory from Benchmark?

Getting in trouble for doing my homework on a paper towel with a yellow highlighter.

Words of the Wiser for Younger Students

Always do your homework.

Aiden Greenberg

What is your favorite memory from Benchmark?

Playing baseball outside in sixth grade all the time.

Benchmark has taught me... ...to think before I speak.

Hunter Lankford

What is your favorite memory from Benchmark?

Balloon fight with an undisclosed teacher.

Words of the Wiser for Younger Students

Keep a goal in mind.

Zev Levin

What is your favorite memory from Benchmark?

My first House Morning.

Words of the Wiser for Younger Students

If you keep trying, eventually you will succeed.

Jayden McHugh

What is your favorite memory from Benchmark?

Meeting new friends.

Words of the Wiser for Younger Students

Keep your head up and don’t give up.

Avery McMahon

Words of the Wiser for Younger Students

Don’t worry about dress code, just get to school.

Benchmark has taught me... ...a lot of new things about myself that I think I would have never known

Luke Moleski

What is your favorite memory from Benchmark?

Benchmark soccer.

Benchmark has taught me... ...how to write a structured essay

Frankie Polizzi

Words of the Wiser for Younger Students

School gets easy.

Benchmark has taught me... ...to focus.

Julia Prosnitz

What is your favorite memory from Benchmark?

Baking a cake in math class.

Benchmark has taught me... ...how to successfully write essays.

Sage Richards

Words of the Wiser for Younger Students

Make sure to follow your gut and find friends who really support you.

What have you learned throughout life?

To always follow your heart and be yourself; the right people will come to you when you do so.

Laz Scheibe

What is your favorite memory from Benchmark?

Making idiom flip grids with Myles and Will in 7th grade.

Words of the Wiser for Younger Students

Plan your work ahead of time so you’re not stressed out.

Nicole Semerjian

What is your favorite memory from Benchmark? Meeting new people in my Middle School years.

Benchmark has taught me... ...that there will always be people there for you, and to always be yourself.

Porter Shaw

Words of the Wiser for Younger Students

Don’t procrastinate on your assignments.

Benchmark has taught me... ...how to manage my work.

Myles Silber

What is your favorite memory from Benchmark?

Working on the Dorney Park presentation.

Words of the Wiser for Younger Students

If you get a bad grade, don’t worry about it. It won’t matter at all later.

Sam Sylvester

What is your favorite memory from Benchmark? The 2021-22 soccer season.

Benchmark has taught me... ...how to problem solve hard situations and get positive results.

Jack Waldman

What is your favorite memory from Benchmark?

My favorite memory from Benchmark was playing football in the snow with my friends.

Benchmark has taught me... ...to be resilient and ask for help if you need it.

Zoe Wareikis

Words of the Wiser for Younger Students

It’s not about how you screw up, it’s about how you fix your screw-up.

What are you going to miss about Benchmark?

I am going to miss the people and the relationships I made with them.

Paul Youngblood

Words of the Wiser for Younger Students

Manage your time effectively and be aware of whenever you have assignments due.

Benchmark has taught me... ...that I sometimes will need to reach out for help and get feedback from teachers as well as family members and friends.

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