Innovation Lab Sparks Imagination



Photography by Daniel Smyth

Imagine a sunshine-filled room equipped with everything from 3D printers to a sewing machine to craft materials to machining equipment. Add in the bone yard – overflowing shelves filled with partial and non-working toasters, mixers and other kinds of appliances – and you can start to envision Seven Hills Middle School’s Innovation Lab.

Students file in chattering excitedly, laptops in hand. These seventh graders are part of SHIEP (Seven Hills Innovation and Entrepreneurship Program), developed from Stanford University’s design-thinking model by Karen Glum, Science Department Chair and Innovation Lab Director. Glum took a long time researching best practices across the country before presenting the program to administration and staff. Seven Hills has integrated the SHIEP program into the seventh grade curriculum as part of their focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) programming. 

These students meet with Glum regularly to work on a year-long project. “We want them to embrace someone else’s problem and engineer a product as a solution,” Glum says. “It is all about developing empathy for others.”

While many people see middle school as a challenge, Seven Hills head of Middle School Bill Waskowitz sees it as an opportunity. “Developmentally, students at this age are extremely inquisitive,” he says. “They definitely prefer experiential learning. Our goal with the Innovation Lab is to do something authentic that allows students to create a sense of relevancy, rather than just grabbing onto a new course.”

Glum solicited middle school staff and students to help identify issues to solve. Staff, students and parents eagerly embraced the project, writing problem ‘ideas’ on note cards and tacking them up on a bill board outside the Lab. Problem ideas included helping a parent paralyzed by polio and on crutches stay dry when out in the rain, developing a device to help a short adult reach products placed on high shelves at the store and providing protection for animal paws after chemicals are sprayed on the grass.

Seven Hills is one of the few schools in Greater Cincinnati with a formalized curriculum component using design-thinking. “We are engaging the hearts and the minds of our kids,” Waskowitz says. “The program is mission-based and empathy focused.”

Glum explains that parents regularly volunteer to show students how to use the wide variety of equipment available in the Innovation Lab, and to help ensure tools are used safely. 

Plans to incorporate the Innovation Lab into the sixth and eighth grade curriculum are in the works. Currently any student can come in at lunch and explore the Lab. As with most programs at Seven Hills, Upper School students volunteer as helpers, too.

“This is all about creating a sense of excitement in our students and developing the skills that will be needed for them to make a difference in the world they will soon inherit,”
Waskowitz says. 

The Seven Hills School is located at 5400 Red Bank Road. Cincinnati, OH 45227. You can reach them at 513.728.2400 or visit their website at 7hills.org.