At its meeting Jan. 29, the Minocqua J1 School District Board of Education heard a proposal and bid from Jason Yates regarding the implementation of a SmartLab at the Minocqua-Hazelhurst-Lake Tomahawk elementary school.

Yates had presented on the potential for the Minocqua J1 School District to acquire and implement a SmartLab before at a board meeting on Nov. 19, 2018.

“Basically what it is, it’s a fully integrated learning environment,” instructor Jason Yates said. “There are over 400 different activities and 60 different genres that can be done in this lab.”

Yates said the curriculum involved with the SmartLab is updated on a continuous basis.

“It’s not an investment that would be made and then, two or three years, even five years, 10 years, it would never become obsolete,” Yates said. According to Yates, this continuously updated curriculum is included in the yearly fee.

The SmartLab would provide project-based learning that tailors itself to each individual student’s interests, ability level, and age, said Yates.

Yates then described how he envisioned the SmartLab being used at MHLT based on what he learned at other facilities in East Troy. 

“What I noticed was that every one of those facilities had a computer-aided design side and then they also had a manufacturing side,” Yates said. “Well, that is exactly what I want to have happen back in the hub.”

The grand vision, according to Yates, was students would be doing their own computer-aided design software, which comes with the lab. Student would be able to design simple items and get hands-on learning experience to develop skills and interests, he said. 

“They would be designing on one side of the lab and then going to the other and getting some basic tool use,” Yates said.

Yates said one of the ideas he had was allowing students to take orders from faculty members for different events the school has and come up with their own designs and solutions to satisfy those orders.

“It gives students an opportunity to discover what they’re learning inside the classroom is relevant,” Yates said. “It takes what they’ve learned in math, or takes what they’ve learned in social studies, and it brings it to life for them. They can see an application for it.” 

Moreover, according to Yates, the company providing the curriculum for the SmartLab, Creative Learning Systems, is the best in terms of the services and curriculum provided.

“They write curriculum all the way down to four-year-olds,” Yates said. “There’s a wide spectrum we can reach with this program.”

Yates said he would also like to see some STEAM/STEM Club competitions come to the school to not only utilize the lab, but to inspire students to get involved.

“Is it replacing any classes?” board member Joan Christgau asked. “How is it going to be?”

“It (the SmartLab) would just reinforce and extend their learning,” Yates said. “There are different ways I can extend their learning beyond what they’re getting in the classroom.”

Yates said he would be keeping in touch with various teachers.

“What I’m going to do at first is focus on the younger kids and make sure I’m supplementing their science-heavy stuff and then I’m just going to keep adding grades until I get all of them,” Yates said. 

“Talking with Dayle (VanderLeest), because she’s gonna be the scheduling guru,” district administrator Dr. Jim Ellis said. “You wanna talk about how we’re gonna work backwards?”

“We’ll start as a STEM class for the middle school and work our way back and see what we can fit into our master schedule to make sure that our middle school kids get the time they need in there first,” Response to Intervention coordinator and math interventionist Dayle VanderLeest said.

While Yates initially intended the program to start at the younger grade levels and move up to reach the elementary and middle school grades, with scheduling, the plan would be to work backwards to prioritize the time spent in the lab by the middle school grades, VanderLeest indicated.

Yates said there were many ways the SmartLab could be utilized outside of the classroom setting, including summer camps and competitive clubs.

“One of the things I want to get involved in is different competitions, just more ways for the kids to become interested in what they’re learning and be involved in their education,” Yates said.

The board approved the motion to move forward with the SmartLab as presented with a cap of $25,000. The board clarified that this cost doesn’t include the yearly membership costs or which maintenance plan the school chooses.

“What would happen after this point, they will schedule a time with the school to come in,” Yates said. “They have an installation team that comes in and does all of it.” Yates mentioned that training would also be provided to instructors interested in getting involved with the process.

If MHLT decides to install and implement a SmartLab, it would be the only school north of East Troy to have such a facility.

Kayla Houp may be reached via email at kaylah@lakelandtimes. com.