Boyce Middle School was a recipient of the 2016 Active Learning Center Grant from Steelcase Education. See how this school propelled their STEAM program and motivated students through the use of mobile, adaptable furniture and space design.
Boyce welcomes Innovation Hub
He makes it look easy. Instantly commanding the attention of a roomful of 10 year olds with the pitch that he has something new to show them. And within eight quick minutes they were off to create, explore, tinker and code.
Meet Matt Henderson, a 20-year veteran teacher with a background in math and science. And, welcome to the newly developed STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) Design class, located in the Innovation Hub @ Boyce Middle School.
The Innovation Hub @ Boyce Middle School was created during the summer and launched at the start of the 2016-17 school year through private funding. The Active Learning Center program
, a grant initiative founded by Steelcase Education
, provided a $62,000 grant award
for the state-of-the-art furniture and classroom design. Additional technology equipment, supplies and minor renovations were made possible through support from Upper St. Clair School District’s vendors and partners in education.
“We were fortunate to be one of a select few institutions to receive the grant that helped us create this highly-engaging space, and we have received incredible support district wide,” Mr. Dan O’Rourke, Boyce Middle School principal, said. “Students are enthused, engaged and energized when they come to class.”
While it’s easy to get swept away by the brightly colored walls; counter height tables; and fun, blue chairs that not only have wheels, but spin (a curse to nearly any other middle school teacher); this classroom is so much more than its cool façade.
This year STEAM Design is part of the expressive arts rotation – taking the place of what was previously industrial arts. For fifth graders, that means they see Mr. Henderson for 50 minutes every other day for a nine-week period. The other nine-week quarters are devoted to art, music and library. Sixth graders also have a Family & Consumer Science rotation; therefore, each expressive art – including STEAM Design – is 50 minutes every other day for seven weeks.
“The STEAM Design course enables students to apply information learned in their content classes in a real-world problem-solving setting, while also challenging them to assume the role as engineers and designers,” Mr. O’Rourke said. “Students are encouraged to collaborate, communicate, design and create in ways they never have before.”
During a recent visit, the task for the day was to animate a simple white paper cup using the Hummingbird Robotics Kit
, which provides an introduction to robotics and engineering using a combination of kit parts and crafting materials. Students were free to use their imaginations and creativity in their design and animation.
For fifth grader Ryan Sibley, STEAM Design is hands-down his favorite class. With his cup, he’s creating an angry robot with red eyes that light up and motorized wheels to move around.
“I like that we’re able to explore and create things rather than being told exactly what to make,” he said.
Another group of fifth graders found that the most challenging part of the activity was coming up with the perfect design for their cup. The coding was their favorite part because they felt more confident with those skills.
“Creativity is the only thing that really problem solves but we don’t typically give students the chance to practice creativity,” Mr. Henderson said. “For five years our students have been used to a teacher holding up an example and saying, ‘This is what we’re going to make today.’ This class is the complete opposite.”
Mid-way through the paper cup activity, when students were clearly in midst of their own designs, Mr. Henderson stopped the class in order to share his design – two cups in a light saber battle complete with sound effects.
“I make a point to not show an example at the beginning of a new project. The moment I do that, they lose all sense of creativity and strive to recreate the example.”
Other projects in the STEAM Design class have included the use of KEVA Planks
to introduce engineering and design concepts. Among their tasks was to create a structure with a cantilever design.
sets have been used in various capacities. Students competed to see who could construct the longest horizontal structure. Other than the single base, no other parts could touch the table. Some were clever and used the corner of the table to enable the structure to bend while not touching the table; however, they soon learned that the structure began to lose distance as the ends curved downward.
“Failure is part of design,” Mr. Henderson said. “We learn more through failure than success.”
The big take-aways that all Boyce students will gain from the STEAM Design class include:
- Problem Solving: tinkering/playing, making/creating and engineering/designing
- The Design Cycle: think, make, improve, fix and maker better
- The Four Cs: critical thinking, collaboration, communication and creativity
Mr. Henderson and his teaching partner, Kristin Cilli, first began introducing Boyce Middle School students to STEAM concepts informally through Create Lab. One day each week, the teachers would use class time to devote to creativity and discovery. In addition, they served as teachers for Camp Invention, held at Boyce, for the last four summers.
As Mr. Henderson only sees students seven or nine weeks of the school year, he is in the process of developing opportunities for additional STEAM exposure for students and their families.
He envisions STEAM Saturdays at least once per month beginning in January and STEAM Packs that students can take and create at home. In addition, Mr. Henderson and Ms. Cilli are planning to offer a new weeklong, summer STEAM camp for students entering grades four through six.
“We have to be innovative in getting students creating and making when they’re not in STEAM Design class,” Mr. Henderson said. “The real goal is to get students to stop consuming and start creating.”
The excitement around the Innovation Hub @ Boyce and the STEAM Design course is apparent. When asked if there were ways that families could help, Mr. Henderson’s eyes lit up.
“We’re nearing the end of the first quarter and I’ve already exhausted my supplies budget,” he said. “Our students are enthusiastic and I underestimated how much craft supplies we would need.”
For those wanting to assist, the STEAM Design class is in need of everyday craft supplies including craft foam, construction paper, pipe cleaners, popsicle sticks, straws, cardboard, scotch tape, masking tape, stickers, Styrofoam, etc. In addition, on his ultimate wish list are additional laptop computers and 40 Lego Mindstorm robotics kits
Modeled after the Innovation Hub @ Upper St. Clair High School, which opened in 2014 and includes a MIT-certified FAB Lab, the Boyce initiative furthers the district’s strategic plan to increase STEAM opportunities for all students. The next step is to create a similar facility and program at Fort Couch Middle School.
“The first step in the process is the hardest,” Mr. Henderson said. “As the saying goes, ‘a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step’.”