When infants are born, they know only a few things about how the world behaves, but not many.  They know that objects cannot be suspended in midair, but they have not yet figured out, for example, that objects need to be supported from the bottom.  They only figure this out the first time they try to stick something to the wall – and it comes crashing down.  Infants learn about the world by trying things out: this is why they touch things, taste things, and break things.  They learn physics through play.

The development of great ideas through fooling around is not limited to infants.  Mark Zuckerberg famously conceived Facemash, a precursor to Facebook, as a prank. Nobel laureate Richard Feynman began his revolutionary work on atoms by spinning a plate through the air out of boredom.

While play has long been a source of inspiration for ideas, only recently have businesses begun to capitalize on it, holding free-for-all idea sessions and giving engineers designated periods of time to play around with improbable inventions.  At ESLA, we believe it is time that schools recognized the value of intellectual play, so we’ve created an invention of our own– a Media Lab called The Incubator.

The Incubator is a dedicated, on-campus space for students to play, invent and create; it is designed to foster collaboration and innovative use of technology.  Inside the Incubator you will find supplies for building robots or electrical circuits.  You will see a fully stocked electronics and wood shop, ensuring that students emerge from ESLA with practical, hands-on skills.  You will find computers loaded with video editing, graphic design, and programming software. You will encounter a physics class prototyping a new invention, a history class conducting research, and students on break stopping by to work on their web application, just for fun.

The Incubator is for the student who loves science but prefers to learn by doing, not memorizing.  It is for the math student who wonders, “Okay, but when am I ever going to use this in real life?” (The Incubator answers – to program a robot, to create a video game, to build a website!)  The Incubator is for the history student who wants to understand how the population crisis and need for clean water can be creatively engaged through online tools.  It is for the student who gets how they are doing it in class, but thinks he has come up with an even better way.

The culmination of ESLA’s curriculum is our senior project, in which teams of students use technology to create something of value to the community, whether that be an educational video game or a revolutionary new invention.  Through years of play in the Incubator, students will constantly work toward developing the toolbox of skills they will need not only to succeed in their Senior year, but as entrepreneurs, inventors, scientists, and citizens (and best of all, they won’t even realize that they’re learning).  We also believe that with the freedom to create comes responsibility.  Through ESLA’s ethics program, students will learn how to measure the impact of their actions, so that they can invent and create with responsibility and purpose.

All schools have playgrounds.  The Incubator is ESLA’s playground of the mind, our temple to curiosity.  If infants learn through play and experimentation, as do adult scientists and entrepreneurs, we think it might work for middle and high school, too.

9th grade final project from our music lab and film program: