We all remember what middle school was like… and try not to think too much about it. But the teachers at Dover Middle School are doing an incredible job bringing a little something different to the table.
We originally started talking to the teachers at the middle school about ways to raise interest in STEAM—the vaunted quartet of Science, Technology, Art+Design, and Math—through the lens of the Outdoors. There are real challenges in this though. For one, there is the magnetic pull of computers, tv, video games, and other devices. Also, many of the students just haven’t spent quality time outside, so they have fears of the dark, animals, insects, cold, etc.
We put together the NEMO Design Challenge as part of a 6 week after school program. The first week, the students had a behind-the-scenes tour of NEMO. We showed them the range of jobs at NEMO that involve STEAM subjects, taught them about the design process, showed them examples of quick prototyping methods using cardboard, foamboard, foam, wire, tape, wood, etc.
And then we presented them with their design challenge: design a toy that helps people enjoy the outdoors.
Over the next few weeks the students learned about the outdoors, used some gear, and worked with their teachers and mentors from University of New Hampshire to generate a lot of ideas, prototype concepts, and build a final prototype. In the last week of the Design Challenge, the students came back to NEMO HQ, presented their idea and prototype to the NEMO design team, and
survived experienced their first design critique.
To be honest, we weren’t sure at the beginning of all of this how psyched the kids would be to learn about design and prototyping. But once we got the crit started, we were blown away by how engaged they were with the different projects—by the questions they asked, and the creativity and thought behind some of their ideas.
We’re hoping that the takeaway is much more than all the different ways you can use cardboard and tape. For most, this is the first seed of realizing that they can come up with their own ideas, engage with the outdoors, and improve their experience. Every company starts somewhere, often with this first seed. And imagine realizing all of this when you are in Middle School. It’s certainly a head start from where we all first started.