Unit 4 Magnet Schools

After-school “STEM Explorers” Program Builds Essential Skills through Play

Multiple pieces of artwork.
“Tell me and I forget.
Teach me and I remember.
Involve me and I learn.”

These words have been attributed to historic thought leaders from Confucius to Benjamin Franklin.

Despite unclear origins, the sentiment resonates among educators at Stratton Academy of the Arts.

Fourth-grade gifted program teacher Brandon Rutherford echoes it in his own terms:

"Really enriching academic learning experiences occur when students are immersed in something,” he says.

Rutherford and his six fellow committee members held this idea front of mind during their creation of Stratton’s “Mobile Innovation Hubs,” which debuted this school year.

kids putting on performance

These eight distinct resource kits comprise hands-on tools, technology—even toys—that can be adapted to all kinds of classroom curricula.

“One of the ways the arts support learning is that the arts present information in multiple modalities,” such as through visual, auditory, and kinesthetic media and activities, he says.

The hubs are therefore designed to be largely content-neutral—applicable toward any number of academic subjects.

For example, one hub Rutherford personally oversees involves 3D modeling and printing equipment. “It could be used to explore geometry, model an animal to understand its physiology, or create a diorama for social studies,” he says. “3D design isn't the goal of learning here; it’s the tool.”

Kids working on a collabroative painting.

The hubs are also designed to include offerings for every age group. “There’s a built-in progression of learning in these kits,” Rutherford explains. “Students can start building the skills in kindergarten and expand upon them in the higher grade levels."

Beyond their broad academic relevance, the Mobile Innovation Hubs “provide resources to help kids process feelings through art," he says.

For example, handheld 3D printing pens called 3Doodlers “are very soothing and satisfying to use,” Rutherford explains; they can offer comfort to young children coping with trauma or emotional difficulties.

Particularly when it comes to students who are marginalized—whether due to socioeconomic disadvantage or other hardships—“the positive support that the hubs provide is very palpable when you're in the school," he says.

After all, “there’s not always a traditional way of supporting those things in the classroom,” Rutherford notes. Hands-on, expressive, open-ended activities can help fill the gaps.

"The support the arts give is not trivial," Rutherford says. "That's a reason why arts programs are so important."