Imagination Lab rekindles students’ excitement for learning

Indiana district fills in old pool to build a hands-on STEM makerspace
By: | Issue: October, 2019
September 11, 2019
Students work on projects in The Imagination Lab at Clarks Creek Elementary School near Indianapolis. The Plainfield Community School Corp. created the STEM makerspace by filling in an old swimming pool.Students work on projects in The Imagination Lab at Clarks Creek Elementary School near Indianapolis. The Plainfield Community School Corp. created the STEM makerspace by filling in an old swimming pool.

Learning should be driven by enthusiasm and inquiry—not by standardized testing anxiety. This belief guided leaders of the Plainfield Community School Corp. near Indianapolis when they filled in an old district swimming pool to create The Imagination Lab, a $5 million hands-on learning complex and STEM makerspace.

“We needed to make education fun, and get students excited about learning again and not be so wrapped up in test scores,” says Superintendent Scott Olinger of the reasons behind building the Imagination Lab, which is housed at K-5 Clarks Creek Elementary School.

The district completely renovated the facility to build the Imagination Lab’s multiple spaces, which are open to all of Plainfield’s elementary schools. About 2,500 students spend a few hours each month in the lab working on a wide range of hands-0n projects that Plainfield’s educators call “odysseys.”

“Students have experiences in the spaces that go from high tech—such as 3D printing and stop-motion animation—to working with wood and metal,” says Mary Giesting, the director of the lab.

The Imagination Lab features a “messy space” for chemistry and biochemistry projects, and an area where students can use tools to take things apart and put them back together. There are also sound, film, photography and art production spaces. Through the lab’s outdoor garden, students learn about nutrition and growing food.

Hands-on instruction in the STEM makerspace is guided by the broad concepts students are learning in their classrooms. For example, fourth-graders will work with circuits, learn coding skills, make videos and create string art, Giesting says.

Classroom teachers are following lab instruction strategies by incorporating more project-based learning and problem-solving work.

Lab classes are taught by Giesting and her assistant directors, as well as by classroom teachers, an artist-in-residence, and volunteers from community organizations, such as the Rotary Club, local health care providers and an energy utility.

Plainfield Community School Corp. elementary school students learn about nutrition and growing food in the Imagination Lab's garden.

Plainfield Community School Corp. elementary school students learn about nutrition and growing food in the Imagination Lab’s garden.

Community partners have also donated iPads and an augmented reality erosion table that allows students to visualize how bodies and water shape land masses.

In the next few years, Superintendent Olinger expects to expand the outdoor portion of the lab with an art-infused environmental space and walking paths.


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“The Imagination Lab has been a good recruiting tool,” he says. “Families have indicated they wanted to move to Plainfield because they wanted their kids to experience The Imagination Lab.”

Fewer swim teams

While Plainfield built a swimming facility at its new high school building, other districts have filled in pools due to declining interest in swimming and increasing maintenance costs.

Tulsa Public Schools in Oklahoma has converted 11 pools into classrooms, a band room and a multipurpose meeting space. The district once had 27 pools, and now it has just six, with only two of its nine high schools still operating competitive swim teams.

“Every five or six years, the pools required upgrades in systems, but they weren’t getting much use, if any,” says Chris Hudgins, the district’s executive director of bond management.


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