Middle School Design Students Up for the Challenge 

Tackling their first Instant Design Challenge with determination, students in grades five through eight were asked to research and design an ankle-foot orthosis for students with cerebral palsy. 

The project, using household items, was part of their new Design and Modeling course in this year’s middle school introduction to the Innovation and Engineering Center (IEC).

Students use traditional and digital media to brainstorm, build and test prototypes for products that solve real-world problems. “The course has a focus on assistive technology, and many of the problems are framed by a greater social issue,” IEC teacher Rae Johnson ’11 said. “I am absolutely amazed by the depth of creativity that has gone into this project, and I have been sincerely wowed by the independence, time management, and division of labor in each of my student teams.”

Johnson says the program is ideal for this age group. “There is this more open-ended, project-based method of teaching in the IEC that takes the pressure off of students to fight for grades, and instead allows them to engage in a truly authentic process of problem-solving where failure and trying again and again are the norm,” they said. 

Head of Middle School Tasha Elsbach agreed. “Often people think this is the domain of older students, but I know that middle school students have the creativity, skills and passion for doing good and to really take advantage of what Mx. Johnson is teaching,” she said.

As a Masters alum, Johnson is proud to be making a difference. “As part of our equity and inclusion mission, we are sincerely invested in the idea that in offering these classes to all middle school students, we will see a generation of engineers in the Upper School, college and in the professional world that reflects a greater diversity of identities.” 

“The program is going far better than I expected given the environment we launched in, and that is directly attributed to the amount of work and creativity that Rae has inserted into the program,” said Director of Innovation, Engineering and Computer Science John Chiodo.

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