Students, staff learn together to start school year

Sixth grade teacher Doug Brown helps students test their prototype.

During the welcome back meeting on Aug. 20, Greene County Schools superintendent Tim Christensen encouraged teachers to “Do something the first day that makes students want to come back a second day.”

In an effort to get students excited about the possibilities in the school year ahead, middle school teachers and students participated in a design challenge the first and second days of school.

Last spring, teachers from across the district were involved in a professional development day focused on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) design challenges. The day of professional development was led by a representative of The Tech Interactive, a hands-on museum of technology and innovation located in San Jose, CA. The professional development was sponsored by Corteva Agriscience and was arranged by Accenture (Pillar Technology/The Forge).

Social studies teacher Matt Paulsen learns with a group of students.

As part of the middle school challenge, students and teachers worked in small collaborative groups to create a wind powered cupcake delivery device. Using cupcakes simulated by bottle caps and pipe cleaners, they used a variety of household products such as paper towel tubes, coffee filters, paper clips, rubber bands, and other common materials to create their designs.

Groups then tested their designs by seeing how far their devices could travel down a table powered only by the wind provided from a large fan. They were prompted by facilitators to revise their creations to see if they could travel farther, more efficiently, or more directly. Groups that had success were challenged to meet an additional constraint, such as a change in the wind speed, or releasing the cupcake from the device.

Students and staff worked as learners throughout the day. “It was a challenge to actually try to get it to go, but it was fun,” said seventh grader Brent Dennhardt.

Some groups worked on multiple designs in order to find the right one. Seventh grader Kayla Frederick said her group “had to do like three different designs to find one that worked. When we tested it, it would fall over on the back so we had to put more weight on the front so that it didn’t. But the best part was getting it to finally go.”

Literacy teacher Maleea Gannon participated in a group as a learner and said, “I thought their ability to think outside the box was incredible, and I thought that they were really creative and didn’t give up on one try. Trying it, and when it failed, having to think about what caused the failure and figuring out how to fix it was a challenge. But the kids were always excited to try again and again.”

Students, teachers at work

The goal of the day was to promote positive attitudes toward learning at the start of the new school year and to introduce all students and staff to the process of a design challenge. Throughout the school year, teachers in all areas will be working to promote problem solving, critical thinking, and a growth mindset. Participating in a school wide design challenge was a great way to jump start the year at the middle school.  ~courtesy of Greene County talented & gifted teacher Wendy Vander Linden

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