6th Grade Design Challenge
The Middle School science curriculum is designed to be an innovative engagement of real-world issues. Using the steps from an actual Engineering Design Process, students must begin with a problem, investigate what they need to know, design a plan, create their design, experiment to see if it works, iterate and modify their design, and then finally come up with a solution. The solution often raises new questions and that put the whole process back in motion.
The 6th grade jumped right into this process of discovery with their first assignment for the school year: build the tallest free-standing object using all of the given materials. They were divided into three real-world groups—contractors, architects/engineers, and builders. However, the challenge really hinged on the fact that each group was assigned to stay in a different room; only the contractor was allowed to travel and talk between groups. Not only did students learn about the importance of collaboration and compromise, they learned that communication skills are key.
When the Middle School science curriculum coordinator attended a STEM conference at Duke University this past summer, he was struck by the comments from a panel of CEOs in the science field. Facilitated by Tony Wagner, author of the book Creating Innovators, the panelists said they're noticing a disturbing trend: new employees who lack appropriate communication skills. The panelists also added that many scientists are either too arrogant or too technical to be really effective innovators. As the Middle School science curriculum coordinator says, “A brilliant idea means nothing if you're unable to relay its complexity in accessible ways."
To ensure students grasp these fundamentals, Lowell’s Middle School science curriculum is rooted on problem-based learning. To tackle real-world dilemmas such as this design challenge, students had to not only be creative, they had to compromise and communicate.
As these 6th graders eventually made their way to the teetering end of their designs, they also began to realize that effective communication is one of the most overlooked and undervalued elements of scientific discovery.