Immanuel Lutheran School Set to Launch Next Generation of Learning as STEMM/SmartLab™ Construction Begins
About two years ago, Immanuel Lutheran School (Memphis) Principal, Todd Baringer started to explore the possibility of incorporating STEM into the school’s curriculum. If the acronym is new to you, STEM stands for “Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics” and represents a formal push to connect students with practical, hands-on learning experiences related to these critical fields. As Baringer researched options for STEM, he found a wide range of possibilities, from schools that incorporated STEM “elements” to those that made a full investment in the concept with the long-term goal of producing students who are better “thinkers.” Immediately, Baringer knew what he wanted for Immanuel: the “all in” approach. Fast forward two years later and the school is breaking ground on a facility expansion that will include a 2,000-square foot dedicated STEMM SmartLab™. Yes, there’s an extra “M” there, which stands for “ministry.” As Baringer explains, “We’re a Lutheran school and this new education resource is going to be a blessing to our students and our community. It’s a ministry.”
The new resource will be significant not only for Immanuel, but for the entire state of Tennessee: it will be the state’s first full-blown SmartLab™ for grades K-8. Baringer admits that getting from the concept phase to the ground-breaking hasn’t been easy, mostly because “it’s hard to make people understand how significant and game-changing this is going to be.” With the help of the experienced STEM consultants at Creative Learning Systems, Immanuel has designed a space that will include all the technology resources needed to engage students in practical, collaborative learning. Imagine a classroom where students build bridges, design homes, work with hydropower or code an app for a smartphone—a classroom where knowledge is used to solve real-world problems. Beginning with the 2017/2018 school year, this dynamic learning environment will be a reality for the 200 students at Immanuel.
“How many times have we heard kids ask, ‘When will I ever use geometry or algebra in the real world?’” says Immanuel’s STEMM Facilitator, Jason Yates. “In the SmartLab™ setting, you get to answer that question in so many ways,” he explains. Yates joined the Immanuel faculty this school year to lead the implementation of the STEMM program. Both his degree in science education and his military background in avionics made him a perfect fit for the school’s STEMM Facilitator role. When the SmartLab™ opens next school year, Yates will teach exclusively in the facility, leading both STEMM-specific classes and special projects for the math and science curriculum. But the SmartLab™ will do more than show kids the relevance of algebra and geometry. As Yates explains, “It will be a setting that gets kids interested in engineering disciplines and breaks down gender stereotypes related to these fields. But more importantly, the SmartLab™ will emphasize group collaboration and critical thinking, which are skills that are declining in kids across the nation.”
Immanuel’s STEMM SmartLab™ is slated for completion this spring, with faculty orientation and training taking place in June to prepare for the full launch next school year. The project is being funded through a combination of generous donor support and a SMART Loan, which is a school-specific lending program from Lutheran Church Extension Fund (LCEF). The coming months will be very exciting at Immanuel as the STEMM program transforms from concept to reality. Immanuel’s initiative to bring this one-of-a-kind education venture to the Memphis community is an inspiring example of Lutheran schools leading the way!