Serena Hills Elementary Announces SmartLab Donation

Flossmoor School District 161 (IL) announced a generous donation from alumnus Allan DiCastro to fund the district's first SmartLab. DiCastro's generous donation of up to $200,000 will fund a SmartLab at Serena Hills Elementary where he was a student in the early 1970's. 

DiCastro remembers his time at Serena Hills fondly. "Experiences in that school made me feel I could achieve what anyone else could,” DiCastro told the Homewood-Flossmoor Chronicle. “And then as I went out into the world that sense of worth stuck and grounded me so often.”

Now, after a successful twenty year career in finance, his generosity will provide his alma mater with STEAM resources so that other students can benefit from similar inspiration. 

We appreciate Mr. DiCastro's commitment to educating young learners and are proud to partner with Flossmoor District 161. 


Serena Hills Elementary and Alumnus Allan DiCastro

Record Attendance at AFDC 2017

Over 100 SmartLab facilitators attended AFDC 2017 at The Englewood Campus (CO) last week. Educators from around the country (and as far away as El Salvador!) took time from their summer break to attend Creative Learning Systems' annual week-long workshop. 

In celebration of the 30th anniversary of the launch of the first SmartLab in 1987, the theme of this year's conference was "30 Years of Making Makers". The keynote speaker was Ray Ramadorai, a middle school student in the first SmartLab who is now a successful aerospace engineer. His address inspired the attendees and provided a privileged glimpse into the long-term impact of their work as a SmartLab facilitator.  

Attendees learned about the latest in STEM/STEAM technology and project-based, student-centered facilitation techniques. In addition to a wide range of hands-on workshops and seminars, the daily "Share Fair" once again provided an opportunity for facilitators to share student work and learn best-practice classroom and SmartLab management strategies from their peers. 

Thanks to all who attended, our dedicated conference staff, and to Englewood School District for hosting this years' conference.


Over one-hundred SmartLab Facilitators attended AFDC 2017


SmartLab Facilitators show off their Zometool mega-dodecahedron project

SmartLab Improves Math Scores at Denver School

An elementary school in Denver, Colorado, saw a spike in standardized math scores following the implementation of a Creative Learning Systems SmartLab. 

Samuels Elementary School, located in southeast Denver, is an extremely diverse school with more than 500 students who speak a collective 26 languages.  Nearly 75 percent of students are on free and reduced lunch. 

Two years before the school added a SmartLab, the school’s standardized math scores fell two percentile points below district standards, with fourth graders at Samuels testing 22 points below district standards. 

“One of the challenges is to deliver an education that meets kids needs that are so widely different from one another,” said Principal Cesar Rivera. “We have to deliver our education creatively, flexibly.” 

While looking for ways to do that and renovating the school building – which at one point didn’t even have doors or real walls – school staff learned of Creative Learning System’s SmartLab programs. A school bond helped create modern classrooms with doors in the building. A generous $150,000 donation from Marco Campos of Campos EPC helped make a SmartLab a reality for the 2015-16 school year. 

At the time, Samuels was only the third Denver Public Schools site to have a SmartLab.

When the lab opened, students began experimenting with sound waves. Coding. Engineering circuits. Building structures. 

“The excitement was so palpable,” Rivera said. “The building was abuzz. … But it was kind of fuzzy to as to what the connection would be (to performance).”

Then the math scores came out.  

School-wide scores jumped to 12 percentile points above district expectations. Fourth graders tested 7 percentile points above expectations.  Fifth graders, which were already 15 percentile points above the district standard, exceed it by 20.5 percentile points. 

The school’s at-risk populations also performed above district standards, with English Language Learners earning 21.5 points above district expectations.  

Even though the SmartLab is not solely a math program, Rivera attributes much of those successes to the lab’s real world applications energizing student learning. 

Those applications translate “pretty clearly” into the school’s math classes and seemingly abstract questions on standardized tests, Rivera added. 

“It has changed the game,” he said. “Being able to actually build, being able to actually code, being able to design. … Kids light up when they’re problem-solving in math.” 

Samuels Elementary School is now one of six elementary schools in Denver Public Schools with SmartLabs, Rivera said. And more are scheduled to launch this fall.

“It’s just such an amazing opportunity for kids,” Rivera said. “To have something like this is still so unique.”