'You can see the learning happen' in Miss Hall's new STEAM building

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PITTSFIELD — The newly constructed academic building at Miss Hall's School offers windows into 21st-century learning, literally.

The 18,125-square-foot Linn Hall is filled with glass, from large paneled window frames to doors, giving students, visitors and teachers alike a glimpse into the STEAM studies of science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics at work, as well as the school's Horizons program for community service. For the first time, these disciplines are being taught under one roof, in a two-story structure, that curves along the campus pond which it overlooks and fills the building with natural light.

"You can see the learning happening here, and that's by design," said Head of School Julia Heaton.

Miss Hall's Director of Campus Services Robert Aldrich, who has been with the independent girls' school since 2012, said the design of the new building kept changing over the years, "because science kept changing. We had to keep in mind what would happen after we open it, and the year after that and after that."

"Flexibility was key," he said when the new building began coming to fruition.

New workforce demands, higher education and global development call for collaboration, so Linn Hall's architects (Boston's Flansburgh firm), created multiple multi-use spaces, including features like folding doors, moveable science lab tables, and ample locked storage spaces for students' works in progress. Almost every room is outfitted with modern technology, from writable walls, interactive projection software, and new laboratory equipment. The furniture itself was also selected because it's lightweight and easy to move.

Previous STEAM classes were held in a 1950s construction era expansion wing, which offered little meeting space, aside from the option of sitting and meeting in hallways, where backpacks and books would subsequently pile up and block movement between classes.

Without modern laboratory options, students also lacked opportunities to do a range of hands-on projects and experiments.

"Now, the possibilities are endless, including opportunities for collaboration," Heaton said. She noted that the design process included board members, faculty and staff, but also students weighing in on everything from colors and artwork to room configurations and instructional needs.

On Monday afternoon, about a dozen young women were working away in an area of Linn Hall known as the Grace Murray Hopper Innovation Lab. It's home to the new Engineering and Technology Innovation Department, headed by the school's new Director of Engineering & Technology Innovation/STEAM Coordinator Christopher Himes, Ph.D.

Himes moved from table to table offering advice and asking questions of the students in his "Engineering & Society" class, which explores how design applies to societal needs. For their final projects of the semester, ending this month, groups of four students each are required to design and make a prosthesis or assistive device for a person who is missing a hand or part of their arm.

At one table, seniors Rachel Freedman and Siwon Kim worked together to figure out how to attach a circuit board to a device that would help someone brush their teeth.

"I'm glad to be taking a class like this that's hands on. I never had that kind of experience before. We used to have a more traditional class of taking notes and didn't have the opportunity to design a physical product," Kim explained.

Freedman said she was a fan of the new space. "It's nice. We can talk more and collaborate, which creates more ideas," she said.

In the Hopper Innovation Lab itself, those ideas can be translated through three-dimensional printing, engineering and electrical resources.

At another table, juniors Judy Li and Wendy Truong worked on a prototype that involves a tension-based clamp a person might use to grasp objects. Truong said she enrolled in the class because she "wanted to try something new."

Nearby, their project partners, seniors Emma Jennings and Gabriela Keator, worked on the group's final presentation. Sorting through notes, the students found they had drafted 47 designs, which including a first prototype involving wooden ice pop sticks and two spring coils.

"It was a good process," said Jennings, who described herself as a big fan of the sciences.

Keator, on the other hand, said she was "never super-passionate of the sciences," but decided to give the class a go to add a fourth year of science to her high school transcript.

"It's a lot different than what I expected," she said, noting she was surprised to have to go through dozens of design phases.

"But to see it go from the first prototype to what we have now, made all 47 drafts worth it," Keator said.

To see and learn more about the new building, visit: misshalls.org/page/about/campus-expansion


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