By Karen Metcalf, Middle School Lead Science Teacher
Middle school this week has been an interesting place. Were you to have placed a few hidden cameras and microphones around campus, this is what you might have seen and heard.
“Do you have magnet wire? My windmill needs some to light the bulb.”
“Have you ever used a drill before? No? OK, first get some goggles…”
“What materials do you need for a Stirling engine?”
“Can I use this plywood to cut a parabola for my energy project?”
“Guess what, the solar oven is at 165 degrees Fahrenheit.”
“Can I look at that under the microscope before school starts?”
“That solar car is so fast!”
Students have been working on projects of their own design in preparation for Cornerstone’s Energy Fair to be held on April 19. I’ve taught students how to use power tools, encouraged brainstorming on new designs for renewable energy devices, acquired a bucket of cow poop, searched the tool kit for dozens of things, purchased dowels, metal rods and LED bulbs, and scoured my garage for leftover wood, nails, wire, bulbs, cans, and more.
You might think there’s no rhyme or reason for these snippets of conversation and lists of supplies, but it’s for the greater good. These disparate topics are encouraging our students to be creative, solve problems of the real world and gain new skills. Pursuing the answers to challenging problems takes more than rote memory or following directions, it requires deep learning and application of that knowledge.
Perhaps most importantly, it gives our students confidence that they have significant contributions to make to the community. And experience doing so.
Your hidden camera would have also shown you the results of letting kids really engage with projects in the curriculum. Solar car wheel class students (past and present) designed and built cars that competed in the CLC Solar Car Time Trials. These cars showed that a genuine challenge can lead to remarkable results and an understanding of the underlying principles of motion, gear ratios, electronic circuits and the like. (Congratulations to Zachary, Christopher and Dominick – winners of the CLC Time Trials. Thanks also, Charlie Witmer, for your inspired leadership and vision in teaching them.)
So, I hope you don’t perceive what you see on your hidden camera webcast as chaos. I can assure you that there is deep learning going on here. It’s tiring to supervise these many things at once, but at the end of the day, I sleep well knowing that the results will be their own reward (and because I know if I don’t sleep, I won’t make it through the day tomorrow).