Extraordinary Middle School Opportunities
A virtual reality mat that increases balance, a matching game that builds hand strength and coordination, a ball toss game that improves posture. These are just a few of the therapeutic game ideas that seventh graders recently developed during a four-week unit on engineering design and development.
“The challenge was to design a toy that a rehabilitation therapist could use for children with cerebral palsy, but that also had universal appeal for everyone to play and have fun,” explains Michele Rosen, Middle School educational technologist. She, along with Tameka Woodard, director of studies, and science teachers Janice Palmer, Michael Rinehart, and David Sanders, modified a semester-long curriculum from Project Lead the Way, a non-profit organization that provides “teachers with the training, resources, and support they need to engage students in real-world learning.”
As a class, the students designed an ankle brace in order to go through the engineering design and development steps together. They then broke out into groups of three and four and were assigned a specific symptom to solve for, such as balance, fine motor skills, or neck strength.
Over the course of the project, the students followed the same steps a professional design engineer would. After researching the needs of cerebral palsy therapy patients, they began with a decision matrix to filter their ideas and make a group decision on the best approach. They then designed a thumbnail sketch, built a prototype, tested their game, and made modifications as needed.
The process didn’t always go smoothly. For instance, some groups had trouble negotiating a single idea to pursue. Others learned the hard way that they could manage their time better by dividing and conquering tasks. In some instances, the design and materials that seemed so clear on paper, required quite a bit of adjustment in the prototype stage.
After four weeks, they presented their design to the class. In addition to demonstrating their prototype, the students shared their process, including the challenges they faced and what they would have done differently, including how the team worked together.
“As much as this project was about solving a real-world problem, it was also about learning how to work together—to collaborate, to solve problems, to identify strengths, to multi-task, to manage their collective time, and so forth,” says Mrs. Palmer. “Through the process of developing team norms, students must collaborate at adult-like levels, just as adults to in their workplace. They are learning how to complete self-assigned work.”
Central to the success of each group was to develop team norms and hold each other accountable to them. Each morning, the team had to develop a specific goal, such as “create PowerPoint slides,” not “work on project.” This helped the students to stay on task and focused on problem-solving.
“The students are all really excited about and proud of their designs,” says Mrs. Palmer. “I’m excited about the fact that they will carry the teamwork skills they learned in science into future projects, such as Global Village later this year.”