Developing the Innovator Mindset With Innovation Day 2020
Last week our 6th, 7th, and 8th graders took a break from their regular class schedules for a morning of innovation, collaboration, and fun. Through a technical writing competition, complex engineering challenges, and NASA-inspired problem-solving scenarios, middle schoolers worked in teams to develop the fundamental elements of the innovator's mindset: curiosity, creativity, perseverance, collaboration, and reflection.
Why Innovation Day?
Students need memorable, multisensory experiences to learn essential skills and habits of mind. Innovation Day is a chance for middle schoolers to strengthen skills they learn in the classroom by creating unique solutions to a variety of communication, design and engineering problems. These challenges mimic real-life scenarios adults face in the working world with focused goals, clear (and short!) deadlines, limited materials and a team with different levels of expertise. At the end of every challenge, the groups reflect on what worked, what didn’t, and how they could improve.
Communication is Everything
The purpose of this activity is to develop precise communication skills and work across teams to protoype designs. Students were given a set of materials to build an object, writing thorough descriptions of their process as they worked. They concealed the finished prototype in a bag, gave it to the teacher for safekeeping and traded instructions with design teams from other rooms. Following the given instructions, they recreated the other team’s prototype without being able to see the example. In order to succeed, the teams had to organize, design and build quickly, write technical directions clearly and carefully follow directions.
Survival on the Moon
The year is 2050 and our middle schoolers are on a NASA mission to an outpost on the moon. Equipment failure strikes as they separate from the Lunar Surface Access Module and land 50 miles off target. They must choose the right gear and transportation to get to the outpost safely. Their challenge is to build a survival kit, thinking critically about every choice along the way.
Each group was given a list of 15 items to choose from. Individually, they ranked these items in order of utility with an explanation of how it would benefit the mission. Then as a team, they compiled their lists and debated their choices to arrive at group consensus. Survival depended on their ability to work with other team members to determine not only the value of these items but how best to use them. Finally, they compared their lists to a ranking created by NASA experts.
In this scenario, our teams have landed on Mars as part of a NASA exploratory expedition. A furious dust storm destroys access to their supplies and they must engineer a solution to carry food and water from mission central. In the most difficult task of the day, middle schoolers have one hour to design and build a self-propelled rubberband rover that can support this precious cargo. After building and testing their machines, teams were evaluated on cost (using the least amount of materials), transport time, and payload (number of water bottles the vehicle could support).
Three Grades, One Community
Along with Community Service Day and Community Life Day, Innovation Day is part of our series of whole-school events that provide middle schoolers unique ways to interact outside of the regular classroom setting. While developing core skills that are critical for success in high school, college, and the professional world, they celebrate and embrace the camaraderie and support of their peers.