Out of this World

Beginning in January 2018, students from Hillcrest Elementary School, located in Brookings, S.D., started making weekly visits to the Children’s Museum of South Dakota as part of a unique offering called the Innovation Learning Lab.

Innovation Learning Lab is a program created in collaboration with South Dakota State University, the Brookings School District, and the Children’s Museum of South Dakota with a goal of offering school-age children authentic experiences to create their own learning through inquiry and problem-solving while working to solve real-world problems.

The students split into three interest areas, two of which were culture and animals. The final group chose to focus on the solar system. While studying the exhibits at the Children’s Museum, the students quickly noticed that the museum does not have space dedicated to the planets in our solar system. They decided to answer the question: How can we help museum guests learn about the solar system?

To solve this problem, the students had to first learn about the solar system themselves. Over the course of several weeks, students researched the order of the planets, properties, and weight, of the planets and what other celestial objects are in our solar system. During this process, the students became particularly interested in the mythology surrounding stars and planets and even made artwork based on the constellations they learned about.

After learning all they could about our solar system, the students moved on to the next part of their plan: Creating a large solar system display that guests of the museum can view to learn about the solar system. Students grouped together and used papier mache to build the bodies for the sun and planets, and delicately painting details onto their planets, some even using craft sand for texture.

Planets were hung from the ceiling of the museum’s first-floor art studio and students presented their project to the other 2nd graders from their school. This installation was on display for 2.5 months and seen by approximately 22,000 guests.

While this project made the student’s learning visible to the public, the greater success of the project is that students took pride in their learning. By empowering students to contribute based on their interests they were able to take learning into their own hands, solve a problem, and create a meaningful experience through an installation that was out of this world!

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