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An independent, coed K-12 day school in Atlanta

Finding the "Aha!" Moment in Play

Finding the "Aha!" Moment in Play
Chelle Wabrek, Associate Head of School

As an Upper School Latin class wrapped up their reading of Roman historian Asconius’ account and interpretation of the political murder of Clodius Pulcher, each student was to demonstrate their learning in a novel and engaging way: create a podcast, a board game, direct and produce a scene from the text, write a song that communicates Cicero’s defense of the murderer. The list might go on and on.

One student decided to try something different. During his junior year, Henry Hicks ’24 had taken Introduction to Engineering with engineering instructor and makerspace facilitator Ethan Greenberg and thought he would take a different approach to the Latin assignment. He reached out to Ethan to ask permission to use the makerspace— the 3D printer in particular—to print a model of the Temple of Vesta in support of his investigation of this Roman religious order, highlighting his theory that architecture supports the belief and vice versa. Little did he know the enthusiastic response he would receive and how that response pointed directly to Lovett’s future and its founding.

Having been a physics teacher at Lovett for nearly a decade, Ethan’s shift to teaching coursework in engineering and “making” was a logical and smooth transition. Part of his task was to bring the “makerspace” out of its space and into the minds of teachers and students.

Over the last few months, Ethan, in partnership with his colleagues in the Middle School Cube and Lower School’s inGen, has hosted collaborative projects with classroom teachers in each division and leaned heavily on partnerships with teachers in the arts. The intent behind these collaborations is for students to see Lovett’s makerspaces as “playgrounds” for ideas—the place to test hypotheses and physically build out their thinking.

As we design an education for the exciting and exponentially different futures of our students, the makerspaces across campus are more mindsets than classrooms. Lovett’s centennial building project shines a spotlight on these essential habits of mind, providing a physical space that is interdisciplinary, interdivisional, and focused on applied learning. The new space will physically wire connections between library and making, and the arts and making. It also intends to bring students and teachers from all divisions into these spaces, not because they have a class assigned there, but because they know it demarcates a zone of innovation and embodies a state of mind. It is a space dedicated to the “aha!” moment.

When Henry enrolled in Engineering 2 in spring 2023, he knew that he was signing up for more than the technical skills the class encompassed. Their first task required students to visit the Marine Biology lab and connect with Dr. Jennifer Reynolds. The pipes connecting the tanks to their water circulation system required frequent tightening and there was no tool available for purchase that enabled her to do that easily. She described her problem and Henry and his classmates took measurements, studied the pipes, did plumbing research, and began plotting designs. Prototype after prototype was 3D printed and students brought them over to the Marine Bio lab for testing and revisions.

“We can do all the research we want, but there is a lot of trial and error,” Henry recalls of the process. “You can have an idea of what you want to try, but you don’t know if it is really going to turn out to be exactly what Dr. Reynolds could easily use. So you take the idea and try it out. You note what doesn’t work and what does. If you get it right the first time around, you likely didn’t go big enough.”

Henry saw that the mindsets he is building in that class extended into other places as well.

“If I come at my most recent poetry essay [for my English class] with the same mindset I have in engineering, I can see that the feedback isn’t personal but about communicating my ideas in words, the same way I communicated my ideas with the 3D printer,” he says. “In the case of the essay, I saw that I was a little bit wordy and elusive around some of my evidence and could tighten that up.”

"Learning should be closely related to play." — Eva Edwards Lovett, 1928

While Eva Edwards Lovett may not have envisioned a laser cutter or 3D printer housed at her school, she knew that students needed to make their learning visible to truly build deep understanding. In her 1930s address to parents, Mrs. Lovett noted, “Investigations, modeling, painting, drawing, shop work, writing, trips and continual dramatizations of subject matter, are the magic ‘sesames’ which open the door to a rich, adult life for the learning child.” At that time, she was describing the “aha!” or “eureka!” moment that kids have when understanding hatches in their minds, not because they memorized it, but because they “got it.” She wanted to “offer an education of doing and creating,” because she understood that making thinking visible gave students a sense of their own agency, of what they could do themselves.

A 1928 newspaper article quotes Mrs. Lovett as saying “learning should be closely related to play.” The concept of play looks different through the learning lives of children—from a playground game to LEGO-building and drawing and painting to building—but whatever the age, play is self-directed and voluntary, meaningful and creative, active and process-oriented, adventurous and symbolic. Application of that rubric to the collaborations emanating from our fine arts and making spaces highlights that “play” is exactly what is at work in those spaces. The investment of time and connections between colleagues from across divisions and disciplines is making the spirit of play contagious at Lovett.

As our Centennial looms large on the horizon, Mrs. Lovett’s vision for the School comes into greater focus. There is no doubt she would love to have lunch with Henry Hicks and perhaps have him teach her how to use a 3D printer. No doubt she would tell him that finding the physical “space” that has afforded him the mental “space” to make his learning visible—to have his own sudden realization—is exactly what she had in mind when she opened the doors to The Lovett School at 32 Peachtree Place. No doubt she would look forward with optimism to what the next 100 years at Lovett have in store in service to students.