Earlier this morning, after hearing voices of excitement coming from the science lab, I stepped in to witness our fourth graders participating in a challenge to build towers out of straws. It was fascinating to see how each pair of students had set out with the same goal to build the tallest tower and with the same supplies, straws and tape, but each team tackled the challenge in a completely different way and employed very different strategies. There were groups who focused solely on height and were completely okay with having to start over a few times due to toppled towers and then there were groups who took more time to strategize, utilize support straws, and had shorter, but more structurally sound towers.
This project, part of a larger engineering unit, teaches students how to work together and how to follow the steps of the engineering design process. Students also have fun with this challenge while growing skills and this is such an important part of the learning process. I am continually impressed by our teachers’ abilities to give students opportunities to show their learning and to build these important skills.
Truthfully, tower-building was already on my mind this morning from this week’s parasha, Noach, which contains a story about a challenge to build a tall tower. In the story of the Tower of Babel, God takes issue with how capable the people are in their building because they speak the same language and that trying to reach or surpass the heavens is going too far. In confounding their speech and scattering them across the world, not only are the people stopped from building a too-tall tower, but we also get a nice origin story for different languages.
While there is certainly something humorous about the timing of this science project and its connection to the parasha, it also really has me thinking about how we use goals, creativity, and design to assess and show student learning. While our students had a goal of building the tallest tower, there were also restrictions such as only being able to use 50 straws and 1 meter of tape. Creating a plan, testing, and evaluating were just as important parts of the process as the actual building and implementation.
As we as faculty continue to assess and adapt our own goals, we also continue to make space for project-based learning experiences across curricular content. Our fund-a-need paddle raise at our gala last spring began the fundraising process for an update to our maker-space which will be a part of renovations to complete an arts wing, complete with a maker-space/woodshop, an expanded art studio, and an audio-visual lab.
As a part of this process, we are also working to provide updated training for our teachers and staff to be able to use our equipment (both existing and new) and to work together as a team to continue to create opportunities for engaging and curiosity-centered learning. I very much look forward to sharing more updates and highlights with you as our year of learning and exploration continues.
Wishing a restful weekend and a Shabbat Shalom to you and your loved ones,