The Needham Education Foundation (NEF) is awarding a $50,000 grant to fund the “Da Vinci Workshop,” a lab space for hands-on learning and technological creativity at Needham High School. 

The grant honors the 25th anniversary of the NEF and continues the organization’s emphasis on interdisciplinary learning.

“This workshop embodies STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) interdisciplinary learning and will serve as a space for students and teachers to innovate, collaborate, create and problem-solve – all 21st century learning goals,” said Anne Weinstein, co-chair of the NEF’s Interdisciplinary Learning Initiative. “Thanks to the generosity of our donors, we can accelerate expansion of educational opportunities that are needed by our students for real-world success.”

To create the Da Vinci Workshop, existing space will be outfitted with technology such as laptops for programming and computer aided design (CAD), a laser cutter and other modern fabrication tools and equipment, traditional hand and power tools, construction materials (sheet metal, wire, cardboard), and modular furniture so the space can be configured for multiple uses.

Initially, the space will be used for projects in existing classes and after-school clubs, independent study, and collaboration between a robotics class and a sculpture class to build kinetic sculptures. In addition to enabling expansion of existing classes and clubs, the workshop is intended to expand options and open new academic and career paths for a broad range of students.

The grant was announced at the June 17 meeting of the Needham School Committee. NHS math and computer science teacher Hans Batra is working to create the Da Vinci lab in partnership with NHS Principal Jonathan Pizzi, the school’s assistant principals, and other administrators and teachers.  

“The goal of the NEF is to foster innovation and enrichment in our schools,” said NEF co-president Jane Smalley.  “We have done that for nearly 25 years, and we think the Da Vinci lab is a perfect match with these goals.”

The NEF began in 1990, when members of the Needham High School Class of 1939 donated $3,000 to create an organization to stimulate and support innovative educational programs. The organization has since awarded nearly 500 grants totaling more than $1.9 million.

The Da Vinci Workshop proposal is a part of the Interdisciplinary Learning Initiative, a recent collaboration between NEF and Needham Public Schools. Interdisciplinary learning moves beyond the traditional teaching of academic subjects (English, math, science, etc) in isolated silos. It requires students to combine concepts from multiple academic disciplines, as is required for problem-solving in college and beyond. A 2009 accreditation report of Needham High School by The New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) identified the need for formalized opportunities for interdisciplinary learning.  The NEF’s interdisciplinary initiative led to a new project-based course at the High School called The Greater Boston Project, which draws upon English, math, and social studies to examine social movements throughout Boston’s history.  The course is being offered for the second year in 2014-15.

A committee for interdisciplinary initiatives (made up of school administrators, teachers, and NEF board members) recommended support for the Da Vinci Workshop and will continue to provide oversight. Preliminary outfitting of the Da Vinci Workshop is expected in the 2014-15 school year. School leaders also are pursuing other private grants and partnerships to further fund the workshop.