HCS to have Largest Number of eLabs in the World
Posted on 02/02/2021
Image of 3D Printers in HCS eLab

The Public Education Foundation (PEF), in partnership with Hamilton County Schools (HCS), announced a $1 million investment from an anonymous donor to open 15 new eLabs in HCS and to support the further development of the world-leading eLab network. 

HCS eLabs provide students with rich learning opportunities in engineering, computing, and environmental technology through hands-on activities with digital fabrication equipment (including 3D printing, micro-computing, and robotics). Now, more than ever, students need opportunities to develop knowledge and skills in science, technology, and innovation. The HCS eLabs provide a state-of-the-art learning environment where students can hone those skills as they develop resiliency and confidence solving real-world problems.

“Hamilton County Schools is thrilled to receive this generous donation that will expand eLabs across our district,” said Dr. Bryan Johnson, superintendent of Hamilton County Schools. “One of the focus areas of our strategic plan is Future Ready Students, and we believe it is essential for students to have rich learning experiences that will prepare them for the jobs of the future. These additional eLabs will significantly multiply the number of students who have access to a digital fabrication lab and put them on the path to future readiness.”

“PEF is tremendously excited to continue to collaborate with Hamilton County Schools to increase the number of students who have access to the largest Fab Lab network in the world,” said Dan Challener, President of PEF. “This expansion of digital fabrication labs further positions Hamilton County Schools as a global leader in innovative education and prepares our children to solve the problems of today and be prepared for the careers of tomorrow.”

The eLab network in Hamilton County is currently comprised of 22 school-based digital fabrication labs (listed below). The network includes five new HCS eLabs opened through the HCS Office of Innovation and Choice in 2020 in addition to the 16 VW eLabs (that resulted from a $1 million investment from Volkswagen Group of America and the State of Tennessee in 2017). According to the Fab Foundation located at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Hamilton County Schools has more Fab Labs than any school district in the world. As the network continues to grow, HCS and PEF have committed to working in close partnership to ensure teachers and leaders are equipped to support student growth through the labs. 

“This past year has reinforced the importance of the need for students to collaborate and problem solve to develop solutions to challenging problems. eLabs provide the perfect space for project based learning and collaborative problem solving as students build prototypes using the latest digital fabrication tools,” said Jill Levine, HCS Chief of Innovation and Choice.  

Since opening the first Fab Lab in the state at STEM School Chattanooga in 2014, HCS has partnered with PEF to pioneer hands-on learning and career exploration opportunities that spark imagination and empower students to develop the technical fluency and soft skills necessary for success. The 15 new eLabs will increase equitable access to digital fabrication technology (like 3D printing and robotics) across all grade levels, K-12.  

“Last spring, as the pandemic swept across the world and affected supply chains for critical personal protective equipment, our community sprang into action through the eLabs to rapidly produce more than 7,000 face shields for health care providers,” said Michael Stone, Director of Innovation at PEF. “Embedding this level of real-world problem-solving in schools provides students with a set of experiences that allows them to discover their unique interests and positively impact their community.”

To ensure continuous improvement in the eLabs, HCS and PEF work together to provide professional development that prepares teachers to equip students with critical skills to be future ready. These teachers collaborate to develop learning experiences that empower students as resilient, collaborative problem solvers, while maintaining a clear focus on cultivating a strong foundation in engineering, computing, and environmental technology. 

The range of topics continues to grow as teachers and leaders refine the learning in the labs. For example, at Dalewood Middle School, students have leveraged the eLab to support a student racing team that built a custom electric car, complete with a solar charging station, that has won multiple Green Prix race championships across the southeast. Students from Sale Creek Middle High School have used their eLab to create sustainable solutions for habitats in partnership with the Chattanooga Zoo. Furthermore, high school students at CSAS engaged in a joint project with their Biology class and the eLab to 3D-print scale model turbines equipped with micro-controllers and sensors to create a controllable wave-tank for testing innovative turbine designs, increasing the efficiency of hydro-electric output. As this digital fabrication ecosystem continues to grow, more and more students across the district will engage in these innovative learning experiences.

To administer this anonymous donation, PEF and the HCS Office of Innovation and Choice will conduct a competitive process to select the schools to receive the new eLabs. An open request for proposals will be available to every school in the district and a selection committee will award eLabs based on submitted proposals. This selection process will be conducted annually, and five eLabs will open in August 2021, 2022, and 2023.

Current HCS eLab Locations:

·       Brainerd High School

·       Brown Middle School

·       Chattanooga Center for the Creative Arts

·       Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences

·       Dalewood Middle School

·       East Hamilton High School

·       Harrison Bay Future Ready Center

·       Harrison Elementary School

·       Hixson High School

·       Hixson Middle School

·       Howard High School

·       Howard Connect Academy

·       Hunter Middle School

·       Loftis Middle School

·       Lookout Valley Middle High School

·       Normal Park Museum Magnet School

·       Ooltewah Middle School

·       Orchard Knob Middle School

·       Red Bank High School

·       Sale Creek Middle High School

·       Signal Mountain Middle High School

·       Soddy Daisy Middle School

·       STEM School Chattanooga