Students at Calera Middle and Vincent Middle are learning skills to design and create innovative solutions to real-world industry-based challenges through a new program called We Build It Better.
We Build It Better is an all-inclusive, industry-designed, educator-developed, curricular experience that engages middle school students in a work-like STEAM environment. The program incorporates engineering, manufacturing, computer science, math, science, and English Language Arts into a curriculum that takes into account the needs of students, teachers, and industries looking for skilled workers.
The program was developed by Flight Works Alabama, a nonprofit organization that operates an interactive exhibition and education center located in Mobile. Sponsors of the program include the state of Alabama, Airbus, the Alabama Power Foundation, Snap-on, Mott MacDonald, and Amazon Web Services (AWS).
We Built It Better provides intensive professional development for teachers who are implementing the program in their classrooms. The teachers go over each of the seven kits and consumable materials that come with the program. In addition to professional development, the teachers also receive instructor manuals, presentations, and student assessments. Alison Fleming is teaching the course to 36 students at Vincent Middle, while Patrice Marby and Christopher Orvet are teaching it to a combined 92 students at Calera Middle.
Fleming said she likes that the kits contain hands-on activities and are applicable to real-world situations.
“But I also love that it includes several disciplines,” she added. “It isn’t just STEM but it is also literacy and history.”
The first kit the two schools recently completed is entitled Invent and Innovate, which included activities on workplace safety, designing a talking avatar, and building a model of the Wright Brothers airplane. They are currently working on the second kit entitled Precision and Accuracy in Manufacturing, where they are learning about time management, understanding quality assurance and control, and terrific tool design where they will invent a new measuring tool. The other four kits will explore Design and Fabrication; Tools, Fasteners, and Assembly; Electrical and Fiber Optics; Circuits, Sensors, and Coding; and a second unit on Invent and Innovate.
Julie Godrey, Supervisor of Career and Technical Education, said she is excited about the new program being added in Shelby County. The program is an extension of Career Technical Education but is being offered as a science elective at the schools.
Godfrey said in addition to the kits that were included in the We Build it Better program, Shelby County Schools contracted with its health science teachers to develop a health science component to prepare students for careers in the medical field which are prevalent in the Birmingham area.
“I love that this program has a career exploration component and that it is exposing students to things they never would have known about,” Godfrey said.
Cameron Johnson, an eighth-grade student at Vincent Middle, said she can already make connections to what she is learning being applicable to either of the two careers she is currently considering – criminology or veterinary medicine.
“We are currently learning how to measure with tools that I had never seen or even heard of, like a caliper,” Johnson said. “If I end up going into criminology, I know that measurements will be important at crime scenes.”
The tools that Johnson referenced are part of a Snap-on tool cart that is fully loaded with industry-grade tools and materials the students need to complete the lessons in the kits. Tools in the cart include dial calipers, tape measures, steel rulers, a 3D printer and filament, pop rivet guns, power drill, microcomputers, sensors, multimeters, bolt gauges, fiber optic cables, motors, and a first aid kit.
The program also provides digital notebooks for the students that are used to record important aspects of what they are learning in each lesson. According to Oravet, his students at Calera Middle have the notebooks pulled up every lesson and use them to “clock in” to complete the class starting question and at the end to “clock out” – simulating a work environment.
During lessons, they use the notebook to complete activities such as graphic organizers and activities from the lesson. The notebook also has student-centered instructions for all of the hands-on activities.
“On my TV I have the teacher presentation pulled up, and it gives them signals when to look in their notebook or complete something in their digital notebook,” said Oravet. “From a teacher’s perspective, it is an amazing tool. It has everything they need to participate in the lessons in one neat, easy-to-understand package. They use their journals to review for tests and as an instruction manual during activities.”