When mapping out a curriculum for the upcoming school year, the Chandler, Arizona teacher and his colleagues look for ways to integrate the arts into their K-5 STEM philosophy. They create broad themes to guide the teaching and identify resources with cross-subject connections to support them.
This year, Michael's 5th grade students spent a semester focusing on physics and the human body. The theme? "The Bionic Human: Extending the Range of Human Ability." To help tell this story, Michael gave his students the Convenient Carrier challenge: To design and build a way for someone using crutches or a wheelchair to carry all their stuff.
Michael wanted to make sure his students felt the impact of the challenge. To make the experience even more powerful, he gave them a client: Tracy O'Connor, Miss Wheelchair America 2000. "Building to build something is great, but it's not as powerful as building something for someone," says Michael. Tracy spent time with the students and spoke frankly about the accident that put her in a wheel chair. She shared the challenges she's faced and the ways in which she's found success.
Over the span of three days, Michael's students worked through the engineering design process. They began by asking questions of Tracy to determine how their designs could best help someone with the physical limitations of being in a wheelchair. In teams, they brainstormed and sketched designs, creating "blueprints" of their best ideas. The next day, the blueprints became prototypes as each team built and tested their Convenient Carriers, redesigning, and retesting until they had prototypes they were proud of. On the final day, each team presented their prototype to the client, Tracy, who chose the winning design.
"Convenient Carrier allowed my students to connect not only engineering concepts, but physical and life science concepts as well. It provided them with a background to simple machines, but also gave them an awareness of body mechanics and the physical limitations some people experience." --Michael Buist
Michael's students spent the other semester focusing on space:"To Infinity and Beyond: Exploring Size and Scale in Our Solar System." They boldly went where no 5th grade classroom had gone before, and took on FOUR Design Squad Nation challenges: On Target, Touchdown, Sky Floater, and Roving on the Moon. See more of Michael's classroom work.