QUEST Center in Foster Hall is buzzing with activity even as the finishing touches are being made and furniture is being moved inside. The purpose of this brightly colored new space is to provide students room to explore, experiment and maybe even get their hands dirty. Recently, sixth graders studying ancient civilizations used the Center’s Design Studio space to create primitive tools such as bows and arrows, spear throwers and bow drills. There was a “Swiss Family Robinson” vibe as students chopped, cut and twisted sticks, stones and leaves collected from the Coach Dupe Trail. As students weaved together leaf strands, they expressed excitement for the project.
“It makes it feel like you accomplished something.”
“I like that it’s made from scratch.”
“We are way into it.”
Each year, Middle School teacher Virginia Day transports students back in time with hands-on experiences during the primitive technology project-based unit. She has dressed like Indiana Jones, created makeshift caves and even challenged students to throw a primitive spear. This year, students began the lesson by learning how ancient tools were created and the purpose they served. Special guests from the Episcopal Writing Center were brought in to help with the research process. “The Writing Fellows were able to practice their coaching and mentoring skills as they helped the sixth graders interpret research questions and discern the most important information,” says Writing Center Director Katie Sutcliffe. “Especially this year, I think it’s important to jump into opportunities that come up that allow students to interact and practice skills in unique and authentic ways.”
As the newest learning space on campus, the QUEST Center proved to be an ideal setting for students to dig deeper into the past. Just as the Academic Commons provides space for the needs of Upper School students, the QUEST Center provides adaptable, flexible spaces for Lower and Middle School students. The Center houses an assortment of learning resources including microscopes, digital data collection tools, a fully functioning kitchen and virtual, augmented and mixed-reality technology. There is also ample space to store in-progress projects, such as the sixth graders’ primitive tools, without the risk of them being disturbed or moved. One of the best things about the new Center is the freedom it offers teachers to create a hands-on lesson that cannot be offered within the confines of a more traditional setting. “Imagine doing this in my classroom,” says Day as students saw pieces of wood around her.
QUEST Center Director Dr. Elizabeth Lewis is supportive of teachers and welcoming of students as they arrive wide-eyed into the creative space. “I am here to brainstorm, provide set up and clean up to support our teachers as they expand lessons and learning activities for our students,” she says. Even though Dr. Lewis is still finalizing the details that will make this space complete, she is happy to have students enjoy this new learning environment which already feels like a combination of a children’s museum and a school. The sixth grade project is especially exciting. “This is the first project that utilizes all parts of the building,” she says.
Once students complete the primitive tools, they will spend time in the QUEST Center’s Production Studio, where they will use the green screen to record themselves explaining their creations. Later, they will spend a class period using the Center’s audio/visual editing equipment in the Digital Media Lab to perfect their presentations for final submission. In a way that truly exemplifies what Episcopal project-based learning is like, Day says the lesson will be finished when they’re finished. Ultimately, the goal is for students to think critically, process the information and enjoy an experience that engages and inspires learning.
The new QUEST Center is sure to inspire young minds for generations to come. The space is designed to help students explore and connect with the world through hands-on experiences that make learning fun. If the sixth grade history lesson is any indication, that mission is already being accomplished.
For more information about the new QUEST Center in Foster Hall, please visit https://www.episcopalbr.org/quest.html.