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Full STEAM ahead for innovative new middle-school course

A new course for sixth-graders at Moore and Goodrich middle schools encourages students to think outside the box, but a recent lesson had them focused on what was inside the box - a potato chip, in this case.

The course, Design Thinking, is being piloted this year at the two schools. It’s a STEAM course (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) that focuses on collaborative work and developing students’ problem-solving abilities. Students are given a challenge with constraints and asked to use their imagination and ingenuity to create a solution. They are then asked to present their solutions using a variety of methods, including video, class presentations and instruction manuals.

Last week, the students in teacher Mark Holland’s Design Thinking course at Moore were working on their latest challenge: designing and creating a cardbox box that will hold a potato chip and keep it in one piece when it’s shipped across town to Goodrich.

On Wednesday, they were in the testing phase. Students filled their boxes of varying sizes and dimensions with shredded paper, cotton balls, wadded up plastic bags - anything that might protect the precious chip inside. Then they tossed their boxes back and forth like a football, stood on chairs and dropped them and occasionally even slammed them to the ground if they were feeling confident. The results varied - some chips were unscathed, others barely broken, others were reduced to potato bits.

Students described each test beforehand using both words and pictures. Afterwards, they had to answer a few key questions: What went well? What did not go well? What should be changed?

During every step of this lesson and others, students are naturally drawing on skills and knowledge learned in other courses.

“Each day, I see students using reading and writing skills, art skills, math skills,” said Holland, whose teaching experience includes math, science and social studies. “It’s been exciting this year to see students use these skills without actively realizing that they are doing it.”

He added, “I also see a lot of success in students who may typically not feel success in other specific curricular areas. For example, I have seen students who I know struggle with math use math strategies regularly and with excitement in this class.”

Holland also has seen students grow in confidence in other ways, thanks to the collaborative nature of the course. “Some students who have come in with little confidence in the classroom have come out of their shell in great ways and grown in their abilities to collaborate with peers. They feel increased confidence in the classroom as the year has gone on.”


Published: November 6, 2018, Updated: November 6, 2018

"I also see a lot of success in students who may typically not feel success in other specific curricular areas. For example, I have seen students who I know struggle with math use math strategies regularly and with excitement in this class."

Moore Middle School teacher Mark Holland