Local elementary schools and the Children’s Museum of South Dakota along with South Dakota State University recently completed a collaborative effort to bring elementary students a unique learning experience.Called the Innovation Learning Lab, this program began in October as an opportunity to introduce some problem-based learning to different age groups of students.

Each of the three Brookings public elementary schools sent a different group of students to come up with and ultimately solve a problem the Children’s Museum faced. Medary sent students from their mass customized learning group, Hillcrest sent their second graders and Dakota Prairie sent their multi-age kindergarten to the Children’s Museum.

College students from SDSU helped supervise the elementary students. With as many as 44 students from Dakota Prairie’s group, it would have been too much for just the two kindergarten teachers to handle on their own.

From October to March, a group of students spent about two hours at the museum, going once a week every Wednesday.

As Dakota Prairie Elementary kindergarten teacher Kate Mogard said, this wasn’t just a fun field trip for the kids, but a different way to approach learning the things they’d get to learn in the classroom.

“This was definitely more hands-on and more engaging for the kids with more choice and interest,” Mogard said.

The older students came up with problems to solve on their own, but the younger kids needed some assistance from their elders in coming up with something to do.

Dakota Prairie’s kindergarten classes were tasked with recreating something from the museum in a multipurpose room that was available at their school.

“To come up with this, the kids explored the museum. They listed pros and cons of putting this exhibit in our room or not,” Mogard said.

Votes on what the students wanted to see put into the multipurpose space were collected, and the top vote-getters were included. One of those elements from the museum seen in this space is the grocery store, featuring some extra grocery baskets and plastic food from the museum.

Since work on museum-ifying the room at Dakota Prairie was completed, the room has been popular with the kindergartners and some of their older peers as well.

Although it sounds like fun and games, there was plenty of learning going on as students traveled to and from the museum, working to on their relative tasks.

According to Carrie Benson, the museum’s director of education, students were consistently taking notes about and documenting different parts of the museum.

According to Benson, the Medary Elementary students worked to bring more birds to the museum’s outdoor areas, “and it was successful.”

The students learned about different birds that are common in the area and different ways they might attract them to the museum.

“They made a variety of bird houses and different styles of bird feeders. All the bird feeders were organic in nature so that when they broke down, it wasn’t leaving waste,” Benson said.

The Hillcrest students had a few groups working on different projects. One worked on the representations of different cultures at the museum, and after they examined the issue, pitched a plan to the Children’s Museum associate director.

Another group studied the solar system and how they could teach museum patrons about the solar system. They wound up making a solar system that has been on display at the museum.

Yet another group studied habitats and created dioramas that are also on display at the museum.

Although these displays are still present throughout the museum, students will soon start picking them up to take them home.

And with everyone seemingly happy with the results of the first year of the Innovation Learning Lab, the three different parties will work on returning it for next year.

Contact Eric Sandbulte at esandbulte@brookingsregister.com.

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