Then and Now

Technologies of the day

John Dewey’s philosophy of “learning by doing” extended to the manual arts, encouraging students to work with materials and tools as part of their education. Throughout the years, the Schools have kept up with the rapid pace of technological advancement. World Languages students were among the first to use tape recordings to practice their speaking and listening skills. Today, students are developing apps in Computer Science labs, using 3D printers in our Makerspace, and video chatting with experts from across the globe.  

Student publications

From the early days of the Laboratory Schools, students helped set type by hand for a variety of student publications. Learning to use language helped young writers learn to use their voices, leading many Lab journalists to win awards for their reporting. In the 1970s, student reporters were never afraid to write about controversial subjects, such as racial tensions or underage drinking. Now, Lab students use computers and keyboards to create publications such as the Midway, U-Highlights, and Renaissance magazine. But they’ve never lost the investigative spirit of earlier reporters.

Historic Campus garden

Concerned that their urban students weren’t learning agricultural skills, early Lab teachers encouraged them to garden and raise crops on campus. These activities taught the students about not only botany and food production, but also cooperation and community. Spoils from their gardens went home with the students or other members of the School. This care for the environment has extended to the present day, where Labbies enjoy the campus gardens and outdoor classroom and tend to the earth in much the same way that their forebears did.

Passion for the political

Lab’s history is inextricably tied to the social movements and conflicts that have happened outside its walls. The Schools’ location on the campus of the University of Chicago has given students a first-hand look at protests on topics from the Vietnam War to racial injustice to climate change. Even in periods of tumult, at its best, Lab is a place where free-thinking students speak up and make change.

Cardboard imaginations

Creativity has always been a cornerstone of Lab pedagogy, with students using their imaginations to invent all manner of artistic creations. In the 1920s, Lab teacher Olga Adams started her “Our City” project, where kindergarteners designed and built an entire miniature neighborhood and then role-played as citizens of their model town. This creative play is still evidenced in today’s N–2 classrooms, many of which feature blocks, treehouses, and cardboard contraptions of every stripe.