A new loft in third grade

May 18th was a very exciting day for the JCDSRI third grade class (popularly known as Thirdopolis). The day included the culmination of a year-long TikkunXDesign project that focused on their “Grow Room,” a quiet alcove within the classroom. The Grow Room was initially conceived as a space where both children and plants would grow – children would “grow” their social/emotional skills surrounded by plants under a set of grow lights. Students would be responsible for caring for the plants and learned how to track their growth by taking scientific measurements. At the same time, the alcove would provide a calming space for conflict resolution and for students to take a break if they felt the need to “recharge.” The idea for the Grow Room was based on our school’s approach to social/emotional learning, as well as on studies that show that being surrounded by green growing things can contribute to a calm state of mind.

Much of the year in TikkunXDesign was spent applying the Design Process to improving the Grow Room. Our TikkunXDesign Director, Tiferet Rose, and third graders brainstormed, conducted interviews, built several different models — all the while making sure that their ideas reflected the purpose of the space. In the end, three different improvements were chosen: a loft addition, new bean bag chairs and a curtain to make the space more private.

Enter Brown University student Katya Scocimara who worked with Thirdopolis during our school’s STEAM Splash event. Katya had a wonderful experience teaching our students about Biomimicry and expressed interest in completing her final project for her engineering Design Studio at JCDSRI. Given Katya’s interests and background, Thirdopolis’ grow room emerged as the best fit for all involved.

After an initial idea-sharing session with third graders, Katya and her team were able to design, build and install a loft in only three short weeks. This month, Thirdopolis eagerly welcomed the loft and newly designed Grow Room into their classroom. Final touches will soon be added: a mural, pulley system and welcome sign. Third grade teacher, Joe Mirsky, led the Thirdopolans through a process to lay ground rules for the new space, to keep it safe, fair and fun, so students can continue to use it responsibly throughout their busy days.

This project is a wonderful example of the dynamic collaboration between classroom teachers, TikkunXDesign and our school’s Brown/RISD partners. Third grade students are very excited about the loft. While acknowledging how much help they received both from Katya and their teachers, they also have a clear sense of ownership over the entire process — and therefore the space itself.