St. Martin’s Episcopal School

St. Martin’s Episcopal School
Metairie, LA
School Site:
Idea Lab:

School Description
Founded in 1947, St. Martin’s Episcopal School is a co-educational, faith-based, independent school that provides over 500 students from 12 months to grade 12 with a superior and challenging college preparatory education focused on development of the whole person. Our 18-acre campus is unlike any other in the metropolitan New Orleans area with facilities that include a chapel, two libraries, 500-seat theater, visual arts building, six science labs, student center, indoor swimming pool, two full size gymnasiums, lighted football field, all-weather track, and outdoor classroom and community garden. Our Innovation + Design program is at the forefront of education. The design thinking process helps students develop skills and mindsets such as creativity, communication, collaboration, and critical thinking.

Our students excel in sports and academics, shine on the stage, create extraordinary works of art and literature, and develop lifelong friendships. From our Reggio Emilia early childhood program to our student-led high school, we teach our students to think and to solve real-world problems. They learn to serve where they see opportunities or needs. We teach them to reach deep spiritually. We coach them to seek the good, to ferret it out and cherish it. The St. Martin’s experience will guide them and inform them throughout their lives.

Panoramic shot of the Idea Lab in action.
Panoramic shot of the Idea Lab in action.

Description of Maker Space
St. Martin’s has two design/makerspaces on campus. The Idea Lab for innovation + design is simultaneously a classroom, design studio, prototyping lab, community workspace, and — above all else — a place where people and ideas are brought together in the spirit of connecting, sharing, learning, creating, and solving real, complex problems. Creative, versatile collaboration is at the core of the lab’s physical design. Clerestory windows and glass partitions provide natural light and transparency. A mobile flat-screen TV provides opportunity for presentations, analyzing data, or streaming video. Mobile whiteboard “Z-racks”, comfortable office chairs, and large moveable desks create a flexible working environment to accommodate various arrangements and different sized groups. Nearly every surface—walls, desks, and shelves—is covered with dry-erase paint, transforming the lab itself into the working surface for projects.

The STeaM Lab serves our Lower School students and is focused on teaching the basic skills of making and design. The flexible space includes small, 4-person desks that can be easily arranged to fit the needs of the class. Two 3-D printers, a 3-D scanner, Lego robotics kits, Dash and Dot robotics kits, and a giant projector set up are just a few pieces of equipment that students use. One wall is filled with a large green screen which students use to create their own videos and art projects. One long table is filled with laptop computer stations loaded with 3-D modeling, coding, and graphic design software, and two large cabinets hold the “materials library”—everything from Playdoh to popsicle sticks—for prototyping.


Description of Program
The Idea Lab at St. Martin’s serves as a dedicated work space for teachers to engage students in projects that build on the concepts and skills acquired in the classroom and takes them through a six-step approach to design — GATHER, FOCUS, IMAGINE, PROTOTYPE, BUILD, and DELIVER. Through the design thinking process, students learn and practice important skills and mindsets, including the collaboration, communication, and critical and creative thinking. Students are encouraged to step back and reflect, to think about the people and context they are designing for, and to pay attention to and discuss the dynamics of their groups. Risk taking is celebrated and failure is acknowledged as an important part of the process. We want students to be comfortable with being uncomfortable; to push the boundaries of their ideas and those of their peers; to build on the tools they have been given and to craft their own; to think holistically but hone in on the details; to forget about good and focus on growth; to be empathetic leaders and innovators; and to use design as a tool for positive social change.

In addition to supporting classroom projects that redefine what learning is about, the Idea Lab serves as a place for students to study, meeting space for student clubs and tutoring sessions, and a community event space. One club in particular that utilizes the space on a weekly basis is the Makers Club, a group of 6-8th graders that have been working on designing and building a miniature golf hole. Recently, we also hosted PechaKucha Night NOLA Vol. 15, an event that was attended by over 80 community members, educators, students, and parents, that showcased six professionals and one student team, who spoke to the theme “The Power of Design.” These opportunities to activate the Idea Lab outside of classroom projects allow us to truly engage the broader community in conversations about the importance of design and innovation in education and allow our students to engage with a broad base of individuals.

Examples of How the Space is Being Used
What is unique about the Innovation+Design program at St. Martin’s is the student engagement at all levels of the school and the integration of the program itself within the existing curriculum. We believe engaging students early allows them to familiarize themselves with the design process and helps cultivate important skills and mindsets.

At the lower school level, students have reimagined the use of cardboard boxes and transformed them into playgrounds and houses, orchestrated musical concerts with LEGO Robots, 3-D printed ornaments for a New Orleans city-wide event, and even launched a “Save the Honey Bees” campaign for which students developed informational brochures and organized an conference for students around the world.

At the middle school level, one project that has stood out has been the NAIS Challenge 20/20 project, where students have worked to come up with innovative solutions to address issues of climate change, maritime safety and pollution, clean water, infectious diseases, terrorism, and depression among teenagers. Students developed projects over the course of the fall semester which culminated in a series of presentations to local design professionals and educators and have recently started the project back up with different topics.

At the high school level, our Creative Writing class engaged the local chambers of commerce to identify local businesses that needed help with developing a marketing campaign. Students invited several businesses in to pitch themselves and ultimately selected one to work with and conducted a series of field visits and interviews that would guide their work. They ultimately developed a multi-tiered approach to advertising that the business has since implemented.

Outside of the classroom, the Innovation+Design Collective has taken on a series of projects to address the needs within the St. Martin’s community. One of these projects is centered around carpool and parking as it relates to safety and efficiency. Students have held a series of community meetings, observed and documented these systems in action, and developed many prototypes for which they have received feedback. The school’s safety committee approved one of these prototypes which will be piloted beginning in March.

These are just a few of the many, many projects that teachers and students have created through the Innovation+Design program.

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Future Plans
We would like to extend our physical space and program by building a new Center for Innovation+Design, equipped with a digital output lab, wood shop, build shop, audio/visual production studio, multiple classrooms, and a large flexible design space. We have also taken the initial steps to develop a mobile Innovation+Design lab that would allow us to directly engage in projects outside of the physical environment of school, connect with other organizations, and truly bring the classroom into the community. In addition to this, we are also working with community partners such as Tulane University, IDIYA (local maker studio), Leadership+Design, local public and independent schools, and many others to grow the community of makers and design thinkers in the Greater New Orleans areas and to provide more opportunities for our students to engage in real-world projects.

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Design the revolution: Blending Learning, Leading and Innovation

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