The KoLABoration program has drastically disrupted the way education is being delivered, enabling students and teachers to become risk-takers and innovators, and bringing a refreshingly different experience in teaching and learning. The knowledge, skills, dispositions, and abilities students gain in the program are essential for preparing our students for not only middle school and high school, but the challenges they will face in their future professions, personal lives, and civic duties. KoLABoration integrates project-based learning, STEM education, design thinking practices, and the maker movement into one program. The program is developed, sustained, and improved through the holistic design approach, The ACT Project.



"Every student will experience an authentic learning environment where they rigorously apply knowledge and skills from multiple disciplines, and use creative practices to solve meaningful problems and answer real-world questions."


The first three goals were taken from the design framework, The ACT Project.


The KoLABoration program will align with the core values of KIS and foster students’ development in ... 

  • Rigorous, creative practices to develop innovative solutions and high quality work in inquiry-based learning experiences focused on real-world problems and experiences.

  • Essential skills that prepare students for successful work and citizenship (creativity, problem-solving, critical thinking, collaboration, communication, adaptability, and initiative).

  • Empowering mindsets and dispositions that are beneficial to learning, creativity, socio-emotional wellbeing, community-building and global citizenship.

  • Making appropriate improvements to their work through iteration, ongoing feedback, and testing.

  • Identifying connections and interdependent relationships between disciplines when applying concepts and skills during authentic contexts.

  • Gaining early exposure to and increasing their interest in authentic careers and fields.



There are fours steps in the process of developing transdisciplinary units (TDU). First, teachers start by looking at the Desired Results. These are standards, big ideas, learning goals, key concepts and things that students will know and be able to do. The next step is to Identify an Integration Approach, a concept from Jo Anne Vasquez’s book, STEM Lesson Essentials. There are three integration approaches: Multidisciplinary, Interdisciplinary, and Transdisciplinary. For Multidisciplinary, teachers group the desired results based on common themes, such as sustainability or food globalization. In the Interdisciplinary approach, teachers find connections between units of different disciplines by combining two or more learning goals into one key concept or skill. The Transdisciplinary approach is integration method that the KoLAB program uses to create one unit that integrates different subject areas through a culminating challenge. Using the desired results and students’ interests, teachers come up with an engaging, rigorous challenge that incorporates the learning goals, big ideas, and standards of multiple disciplines.

The next step is developing Evidence of Assessment. Teachers develop multiple and ongoing performance tasks and evaluation criteria throughout the learning experiences based on the desired results. The last step is the Learning Plan where teachers develop learning events/activities that lead to the culminating challenge, and determine progress monitoring, sequencing, and differentiation in the unit.



For their Entry Event, 5th grade students visited a local water quality restoration center where they learned how environmental engineers rehabilitate water. Ms. DiRenzo and Mrs. Curtiss also demonstrated how to test turbidity of the water in a small stream next to the center. This entry event was designed to intrigue students about the topic of preserving and rehabilitating the environment. Students were then introduced with the culminating challenge through the Driving Question: How will you as environmental engineers design and market a product that rehabilitates or preserves an element of the environment? Students were given voice and choice in what they could create for this authentic challenge. They ultimately presented their product publicly in a trade show.  Middle and high school students and teachers, parents, administrators, and visiting MIT students "requested orders" for the products that they felt were worth "investing" in. 




Students used the design thinking process to design a product that rehabilitates or preserves an element of the environment. They gained a deep understanding of an environmental problem, the group of people affected by the problem, and the attendees of their Eco Trade Show. They empathized with the specific people affected by the issue and the trade show attendees who wanted to invest in quality products by understanding their feelings, needs, and concerns. The Empathize stage also involved students asking questions, making observations, and gathering information about the situation people wanted to change. They used the needs, concerns, and insights to develop a problem sentence that guided their design process in the Define stage.


In the Ideate stage, students sketched and labeled multiple solutions that would likely meet the criteria and constraints of the problem. After receiving feedback from classmates, teachers, and high school mentors, students chose one solution and created a visual blueprint. The blueprint provided detailed information on the materials needed, the product's measurements, how the parts are put together, how the product works, and the tests that would be carried out to see the effectiveness of the product. In the Create stage, they added more detail to their blueprint and made a concrete, tangible product that was eventually tested out in the Test stage. The testing was done under a range of likely conditions, and its purpose was to identify failure points or difficulties that the students could improve on. Some of the products students created were solar cookers, vermicomposts, water filtration systems, bioplastics, and dew collectors.


This unit was developed by Erin Curtiss, Stephanie Cory, Jay Keshaw, Elizabeth DiRenzo and David Archer.