During one of their nine week-long fine arts rotations, sixth grade students at Collegiate will be testing out a new curriculum developed by Mr. Dan Bell, a technology teacher in the Middle School, and Mr. Dave Bartels, STEAM coordinator for the Upper and Middle schools. Bell describes the goals of the Middle School computer program as “expository” and that they are supposed to “expose kids to different things they could do in Upper School and college.” The students’ exposure begins in fifth grade when they take a year-long course focused on developing basic computer skills that will be useful for the rest of their time at Collegiate. In sixth grade, Bell is taking the class a step further this year by integrating engineering, robotics, and coding. “The class used to be more focused on digging into the skills that the kids were doing that had broader application across the Middle School,” says Bell. Students will continue to learn these skills, but Bell has decided to add this new program into the curriculum.
The class was redesigned for this year in order to expose students to the STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics) program offered in the Upper School. “Part of what we wanted to do was get more kids interested in robotics, because [Collegiate does] those things competitively now,” describes Bell. Sixth graders will be creating a small engineering or technological “start-up” that they have to market to potential investors, using Google or Apple as models. Their companies will have to develop a prototype that will become part of a class-wide project. The current class is creating a conveyor belt that is able to sort objects based on their color and size, similar to something used by Amazon or UPS, which gives the project a real-world connection. Students are working in small groups to produce this prototype, and each group will have to work with the other groups in order to successfully create the conveyor belt. The students have to work together to create a code that tells the conveyor belt to sort different items to recognize color using sensors. “What they are doing… it involves a good amount of collaboration not just in their small groups, but in their groups with each other, which is applicable to the real world,” says Bell. One of the goals of the project is to give the students an understanding of the many different jobs that are involved in producing a final product.
Once the students assemble the conveyor belt, they will create a logo for their company after they learn about graphic design. They will give their company a name and a slogan, making it into a brand. They will also create their own website that has information about their company. Lastly, the students will produce a promotional video for their company and the conveyor belt using their knowledge of video editing. The video will be “documentary style,” as Bell describes it, where the students will show the prototype, share their ideas, and interview other classmates about their thoughts with potential investors.
This new program seems like an incredibly interesting opportunity for the sixth graders. It seems far more engaging and interactive than the things that I remember doing in Middle School computer class. Not only is this project fun, but it gives the students real world knowledge of creating a business and collaborating to complete a task.