Our 8th Grade robotics team, nicknamed "The Skyliners," was on fire at their city-wide qualifying tournament in mid-November. Held at Dominican High School, the tournament is the first step in the international FIRST Lego League competition, which features a new theme each year. This year's theme is City Shaper and encourages students to create STEMgineering solutions for the world's urban areas.
Not only did they set a personal best for St. George's robot challenge scores, but they also topped every other school present at the tournament by a wide margin, winning the coveted Robot Performance Award. The team also won the Champions Award for their robot performance along with their teamwork and project work.
For more about STEM from Mr. Williams, read last year's Accolade article titled, "Math and Making in the Middle School."
Perhaps we should lament the time and attention many elementary and middle school-aged children like to give to screen time. Such worries make sense.
Yet if you could get inside the mind and heart of a child engaging in imaginary worlds like Minecraft, you would see an active imagination mixing with an emerging capacity for abstract reasoning being propelled by intense concentration. This is a combination of forces any middle school teacher would embrace.
Those of us who teach middle school recognize the need to create curricula that attach organically to the interests, questions, and needs of preadolescent and young adolescent learners. It’s a time when students have the capacity to explore and define their identity and discover that there is a “life of the mind”– a sure pathway to discovering one’s self.
My sphere of influence in St. George’s middle school is in the world of mathematics – a place where multiple connections to all aspects of school – and life – are at a child’s fingertips.
Indeed, the current interest in STEAM programs and maker spaces rests on the recognition of the power of applied mathematics. These programs require students to use the skills associated with science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics in dynamic, academically integrated projects. As a teacher, I have always loved taking these once “siloed” subjects and blending them into stimulating places of intellectual exploration.
In my classroom, students leap into projects where they can use mathematical reasoning to make three-dimensional objects using computer-aided design software. Girls and boys engineer robotics systems to complete complex real life tasks or code software to measure composites of polyhedrons.
When St. George’s students can apply “head, hand and heart,” they take on new challenges and become confident presenters in class, at school-wide events such as the annual STEAM Fair, or at city-wide gatherings, such as the annual Mini-Maker Faire.
When I was in my early adolescence, I fell in love with math and felt the urge to break out of the artificial confines of “math class.” Now I have the pleasure and a privilege to release my students to hone their abilities into real-world marketable skills, such as programming, engineering and design, during a time of rich self-discovery.
In short, the urge to create and make one’s ideas tangible is a fire which burns bright in the soul of the middle schooler. My days are filled with the witness of the purposeful passion of young adolescents. It’s a satisfying way to spend my time.
- 8th Grade
- Middle School