Innovation and Design in the Middle School

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February 8, 2012 by Brad Currie

 The Innovation and Design program offered to all students at Readington Middle School is engaging and relevant. Mr. Newcamp, the program’s teacher, has seen this pre-engineering offering develop from its infancy five years ago to one of the most sought after 21st Century learning curricula in the state. Each day students are exposed to technology-driven and collaborative projects that require higher level thinking in order to solve challenging tasks.

The sixth grade curriculum incorporates real world issues with science and technology-based solutions. For example, RMS 6th graders are exploring the issue of energy use, and have learned that buildings account for half of the energy used in the US. Sixth graders are using the program Google SketchUp to design a 3D solar house drawn to scale.  This program allows architects and their clients to visualize green features such as solar panels, sustainable landscaping and building materials that will serve to produce a more sustainable world. Students are researching solar radiation, as well as photovoltaic cells and how they convert the suns rays into electrical energy. With Google SketchUp, Google Earth and the Google 3D Warehouse, students can create contemporary eco-friendly homes and become even more inspired and educated about reducing their own ecological footprint.

In seventh grade students further their understanding by applying their sixth grade learning experiences to more challenging issues.  Scientists have been trying to understand the effects of earthquakes on structures for years. As student engineers, 7th grade RMS students are designing and building a model structure out of balsa wood that will withstand the stress of a simulated earthquake. The goal is to create a model of a 20-story, 200-foot high building that can withstand an earthquake. Students test their towers using a Programmable Earthquake Tremor Table, then analyze the effects of various loads and observe the forces that will shake their structure until it collapses.

Currently, 8th grade students at RMS are designing and constructing CO2 dragsters.  They are learning that one of the most important considerations automobile engineers focus on when designing a vehicle is aerodynamics. Aerodynamics involve how air flows past an object or how an object moves through air. Students use the design process to learn the relationship between friction, drag, and weight. They collaborate in groups of 3 or 4 to design a dragster that will have a low drag when placed in a wind tunnel and a high speed when raced on a 40 foot track. Since the construction of the vehicle is not a linear process, revisions are encouraged and expected; this helps students realize the importance of analyzing and modifying a design to achieve success.

The Innovation and Design program at Readington Middle School provides students with collaborative real world educational experiences. Every student in the building takes the nine week course during each year of their middle school experience. The opportunity to learn and construct while integrating technology excites students. As Benjamin Franklin once said “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I remember, involve me and I learn.” More information related to the Innovation and Design program can be found by visiting our website at


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Brad Currie

Brad Currie

Brad Currie is the Middle School Dean of Students and Supervisor of Instruction for the Chester School District in Chester, NJ. He is the co-founder and co-moderator of #Satchat on Twitter. Brad is passionate educational technology and social media in the school setting.

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