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Sixth-graders constructing new lessons

Published 7:01am Sunday, October 27, 2013
Jorden Delamater holds up one side of a geodesic dome Friday as part of an engineering unit all sixth-graders at I.J. Holton Intermediate School are participating in. Trey Mewes/trey.mewes@austindailyherald.com
Jorden Delamater holds up one side of a geodesic dome Friday as part of an engineering unit all sixth-graders at I.J. Holton Intermediate School are participating in. Trey Mewes/trey.mewes@austindailyherald.com

Build a dome, the teachers said.

Take wrapped up sheets of the Austin Daily Herald, tape them together in intricate geometric shapes, then connect them at the top.

It sounds far more simple than the project actually is, as every sixth-grader at I.J. Holton Intermediate School learned Friday. Sixth-graders began the first of four large-scale engineering units this week as part of the school’s Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) curriculum.

The units involve multiple subjects, from reading and social studies at the beginning to set up the eventual experiment, to Friday’s demonstration of basic math concepts using simple geometry and trigonometry, to eventually creating a windmill designed to aerate a pond in a few weeks.

Addie Ross tapes part of a geodesic dome at I.J. Holton Intermediate School Friday. All Holton sixth-graders helped build a dome as part of an engineering unit.  Trey Mewes/trey.mewes@austindailyherald.com
Addie Ross tapes part of a geodesic dome at I.J. Holton Intermediate School Friday. All Holton sixth-graders helped build a dome as part of an engineering unit. Trey Mewes/trey.mewes@austindailyherald.com

Building a dome was the first step to that windmill, though the students may not know it.

“They’re problem-solving,” said math teacher Kathy Huffman. “This is the first step on how you solve a problem.”

Students had to solve several problems as their respective domes took shape. Working in groups, students created structures several feet tall through newspaper and masking tape, which didn’t always stand up well. Yet students appeared to enjoy the hands-on project.

“I think it’s really fun,” said MacKenzie Windschitl. “We get to actually do hands-on activities to learn.”

The domes will eventually lead to further lessons and more opportunity for creative thinking, part of a school-wide effort to instill more intellectual agility into students as opposed to rote facts and figures.

“These students don’t realize it yet, maybe one or two do, but they’re being engineers right now,” said Language Arts teacher Cori McRae. “This is the heart of a STEAM school.”

Holton is only weeks into its first year — this engineering project represents the first time in recent memory Austin teachers in the district have tried a massive all-grade lesson. The new school is a result of a $28.9 million referendum, which voters approved in 2011 in response to an increasing student population and space issues among Austin schools. A task force designed the building to move fifth-graders from area elementary schools and sixth-graders from Ellis Middle School.

It appears the hands-on lessons are already getting students to appreciate the new school.

“I bet they didn’t do this at Ellis,” sixth-grader Riley Norton said.


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