‘SmartLab’ STEM Program in Wyoming School Offers New Learning Model


A ‘SmartLab’ in Rawlins, Wyoming schools aims to put students in charge of their own STEM education by letting them explore STEM and media arts through project-based learning and applied technology activities in the schools’ established labs. The program is being used in elementary, middle and high schools. Among them, the Rawlins Elementary School.

Chad Abshire of The Rawlins Times writes that with the SmartLab model, students are responsible for what they learn and understand. SmartLab facilitator Misti Newby explains that this learning model encourages students to ask a lot of questions. This, she says, benefits the students who explain how they’ve done it as they digest that knowledge better by explaining and essentially teaching it to a classmate.

“Too many times, our kids – and this was the case in my classroom last year – raise their hand and say, ‘I don’t get it,’ before reading the rules or even having attempted it,” she said. “This puts it on them. They need to show me they’re making the effort to problem solve and see what they can come up with.”

SmartLab’s philosophy is to get students into the habit of asking questions; students are encouraged to ask others for an explanation and check for solutions before asking the facilitator. At the same time, educators themselves probe into the thinking and acting of students through questions. SmartLabs’ philosophy is student-centric and prioritizes experiential learning:

“Students explore. They problem-solve. They collaborate and create. And they learn. It’s what happens when we put educational technology where it belongs…in the hands of students.”

Students from all grade levels have 45-minute long SmartLab visits on a six-day rotation basis. According to Newby, 2nd and 3rd grade students have a total of three rotations and 4th and 5th grade have students four rotations.

SmartLab offers ‘launches’ and ‘liftoff challenges’ that students can take up during their sessions.  There are dozens of such challenges that engage students in active learning.

Smartlab is a learning environment that brings every resource in the service of students. As SmartLab says about its program:

“It’s a place where personalized learning and intrinsic motivation engage students of all ages, interests and abilities….. [S]tudents are creating remarkable projects that motivate them to inquire, explain, tackle new problems and celebrate their solutions.”

Students apply technologies on their project based on what they want to achieve or know — both personally and academically. To assess student performance and achievement, students create ePortfolios in which their learning is documented and evaluated.