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Middle School Science Lab

Student-Centered Learning

Program Highlights

Our exceptional faculty members know our students well and are therefore able to help them flex their learning capacities at our Washington DC campuses.. By setting challenging standards for academic work, classroom engagement, and community involvement, St. Patrick's teachers help students build skills, discover new strengths, and surprise themselves with fresh understandings.

Student-centered learning puts the individual learner's desire to make meaning out of the wider world at the very heart of the work we do here. Individual aspirations and interests, individual strengths and stretches, and individual determination and resolve intersect to shape the learning process. 

Exceptional Literacy

We engage deeply with the spoken and written word.


We encourage our students to hone their ability to attend closely, to interpret accurately, to communicate effectively, to express oneself fully, to view problems from multiple perspectives, and to collaborate in transforming information into insights that lead to creative, sometimes ingenious, solutions—this is Exceptional Literacy.

Through text, we come to know the world better. Through rich and varied exchanges with others, we come to know ourselves. As the world changes, this broad approach to literacy fosters skills that allow students to be successful throughout their lives. The concept of Exceptional Literacy forms the core of our educational program.

Exceptional Literacy includes the study of language arts, social studies, and humanities, but also of mathematics, science, the arts, and technology—all fields with unique languages to master and unique contributions to make to our understanding of ourselves, of others, and of the world.

Project & Inquiry-Based Learning

At St. Patrick's, students love to learn.


Crafting probing questions about important topics and then having their research and exploration supported, face-to-face and shoulder-to-shoulder, by exceptional teachers enables students to achieve a deeper level of understanding in their academic work.

Throughout Project-Based Learning (PBL) units, students develop their own driving questions to guide their research, have opportunities to collaborate with classmates, and create final products that reveal their findings and, ultimately, impart their new knowledge to wider audiences. In this conception of education, faculty members act as facilitators, allowing for a significant level of student self-direction.

At St. Patrick’s, students pursue their curiosity in inquiry-based units across the humanities and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics) fields and at every grade level. We incorporate Harvard's Project Zero approach of see, think, wonder to help us nurture that curiosity.

We consider project- and inquiry-based learning, along with other innovative approaches to teaching, essential to motivating our students to remain inspired and curious.

Design & Collaboration Lab

Design thinking and creative problem-solving are evident in abundance across St. Patrick’s educational program. 


The Design & Collaboration Labs, one for students and one for teachers, support the development of a culture of creativity, collaboration, and innovation. The labs expand valuable learning opportunities for students and teachers and remove hurdles to engaging in even more such projects.  A wide-open, intentional space for design challenges fits the way elementary-age children typically address these types of projects.  To create, they spread out their materials and array themselves across a table or on the floor. Additional storage space allows for a broad range of materials to be at the ready, giving all students easy access to the appropriate materials to manipulate, build, and create. Teachers more fluidly follow student interests and build upon their understanding to move to the next concept or related theme.

The designated spaces refocus community energy and shift students to a frame of mind conducive to creative work.  Crossing the threshold of the Design & Collaboration Lab allows the student to focus on appropriate risk-taking and testing and iterating approaches that result in successful problem-solving.  Students collaborate according to skill sets or preferences towards a common goal. As a team, one student may design the component circuit board while another constructs the overall assembly to complete a project or solve a problem. One teacher observes, “Teachers are excited to see students shine in different ways as they work thoughtfully with partners and grow ideas together, turning them into physical designs. Students build skills in planning, labeling, and constructing.” Students are empowered to innovate and gain confidence in their abilities and are given the opportunity to appreciate the gifts and talents others bring to the table.The Design & Collaboration Labs are configured to grow with the program and expand to embrace robotics, circuitry, and programming.

A nearby space, the Design Shop, accommodates woodworking, power tools, sewing machines, and other resources for student innovation. Science teacher Will Cook, is excited by the possibilities for students to engage in “mixed-age, unconventional, combinatory thinking.” Students learn empathy as they recognize that their peers have strengths that they may or may not share. Understanding and valuing what each student brings to the group strengthens the bond between and among students. 

Design Thinking for Collaboration!

The endgame is to emphasize the collaborative nature of learning for our students and build their capacity for flexible thinking and the ability to experiment and revise approaches to solve problems.

—Elizabeth Markowitz, Design Thinking Specialist & Design Lab Coordinator