At Powhatan, we talk a lot about 21st Century Skills – skills that will help students find success in a world of ever-changing technology and volumes of information. Critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration are widely accepted as fundamental skills for future leaders.

In the lower school lab, students are routinely asked to work collaboratively to conduct experiments, meet design goals, and expand their ideas.

The fifth grade, for example, has been studying force, motion, and simple machines. They work in small groups in the lab daily to accomplish tasks like building and testing pulley systems, calculating and testing forces on levers, and exploring Newton’s Laws. Their final small group assignment for this unit is to envision, build, and demonstrate a Rube Goldberg machine that incorporates at least two different simple machines. Over several days, the students work together, encountering the creative challenge of dreaming up a cool but practical series of steps and then communicating their ideas to peers. The greatest challenge can be finding the balance between their overflowing excitement, the spontaneous generation of ideas, and slowing down to show respect for the ideas of their peers, allowing the structure to grow as a joint vision. Through the execution of the project, there were many moments of tense anticipation, many tweaks to plans, ample frustration, but always new and improved ideas bounced between partners to reach their goal.

Given the collaborative and hands-on nature of science, students are often challenged in our lab space to grow as communicators and collaborators. Our small class sizes allow for guidance through creative exploration and growth in effective teamwork. It is a fun and dynamic place to teach and learn skills not just for school, but for life.