I’ve previously written in this newsletter about our new curriculum initiative that allowed us to enhance and expand some of our science units to incorporate an engineering component. Using the Engineering is Elementary curriculum, developed by the Museum of Science – Boston, students in grades 1-5 experience a rich, hands-on experience designed to address real world problems and directly link the relevance of science and math to their lives.

If you visited the fifth-grade classroom on the night of the academic fair, you witnessed the results of this learning experience in action. ChampionChips, a potato chip factory, was the creation of our budding engineers and the culmination of a multidisciplinary unit on simple machines. One of the challenges they faced was creating solutions to existing problems that would make life easier or make things more efficient, rather than designing and engineering for the sake of designing and engineering. They came up with lots of ideas and experimented with many changes that did not actually satisfy this basic goal, so it was back to the drawing board many times.

Part of this experience capitalized on the notion that problem solving is best accomplished when we engage ourselves AND engage with experts in the field. Therefore, the fifth graders invited several field experts as consultants, subcontractors and mentors. Leading up to the project Ali Reingold, the director of marketing and admissions at HDS (and more famously, Noah’s* mom), worked with the students on marketing skills. The students applied what they learned with her to develop their brand, including determining a name and designing their logo and name badges.  Mat Reingold, an engineer at Ford Motor Company (and more famously, Noah’s* dad), visited the class to discuss his work as an engineer and help the students think through some of the problems and challenges they faced in their design. Ken Emerson, the facilitates manager at the JCC, assisted the students in the construction of their machine.  And of course, Morah Gannon, their faithful guide on the side who let them struggle and puzzle and make discoveries on their own was always on hand to support and guide them.

We know that we learn more from an experience when we reflect on it, so I asked the fifth graders to reflect on this project and offer advice to next year’s fifth graders for when they begin the project.  Here are their wise and thoughtful comments:
Rachael – It takes a lot of time, work and effort. Don’t rush it.
Dylan – You have to work as a team.
Noam – You’re not going to get it the first time.
Yetta – It’s not as easy as it looks.
Noah – Be creative.
Joey – Three things: discipline, courage and pride.
Joseph adds – But not too much pride because if your design is chosen, it’s going to get changed so you can’t be too attached to it.
Morah Gannon – Keep going.  At one point, a student was holding a pulley for at least 15 minutes trying to figure out what to do to make it work. He kept going and kept thinking and at some point a look came over his face and I knew he got it. It was priceless and incredibly exciting!

In the coming semester, we look forward to learning from the third and fourth graders discoveries about rocks as they engage in their geology unit and from the first and second graders as they explore sound.

*Equally famous as Jordan’s parents 🙂