It’s Elementary, My Dear Reader.
Thinking back to your fourth grade school year, what sticks out in your mind? Gone were the days of daring each other to eat paste or being encouraged to take a nap after lunch. Your class had likely just begun to focus on foundational skills needed for the academic rigor of middle school. Fourth graders aren’t usually pushed to explore, problem-solve, and invent at a high level, but Catalyst found a school that challenges students to do just that from day one.
Just about 30 minutes south of Catalyst is an exceptional school which serves students from Pre-K to fourth grade. The curriculum at Brooklyn STEM Academy is different from the average elementary school as evidenced by the ABOUT US page on the academy’s website:
“Through STEM, we have seen students excel when they have the opportunity to explore and invent. … Teachers mentor students as they lead their own learning. Education becomes far more engaging when we build upon skills and realize it is okay to take risks and make mistakes.”
This unique approach piqued our interest at Catalyst, so we reached out to see if there was any opportunity to get involved. Catalyst was promptly invited to see first-hand the results of a project students had been working on. The subject matter and timing couldn’t have been better!
Animal Prosthesis Project
Students were challenged to follow the design process to design, build and evaluate a prototype prosthesis to help an injured animal survive by being able to move or eat again. Several cases were presented for selection including an eagle with a broken beak, a dolphin that was missing a fin or tail, and a two-legged turtle, among others. The project also required students to create a presentation which explained how their prototype aligned with the organism’s structure to help promote survival. When we heard of the prosthetic prototype project presentation (Say that five times, fast.) we just had to go see it for ourselves!
Our VP of Product Development, Andrew Mendenhall jumped at the chance to visit Brooklyn STEM Academy and visit with students. It’s possible that there isn’t a bigger fan of Define, Design, Iterate & Repeat than Andrew.
“I appreciate any opportunity to help nurture the creative and inventive spirit of students, with the hope that it will help propel our community’s innovation in the future.” -Andrew Mendenhall
Define, Design, Prototype … Present!
After a warm welcome by the class, Andrew launched into a brief introduction of the Catalyst product development process. He explained that every product they use, see and touch has gone through a development phase much like the project they had just completed. When Andrew made that link with the student’s work, the energy level rose a bit in the room. Then the announcement was made that it was presentation time, and a few brave hands shot into the air. One by one, the groups launched into their pitches. Public speaking is often difficult for adults, but it was obvious that these kids were up to the task!
Each group began by revealing which animal they chose to help and why. They defined the physical ailment the animal was suffering from and how the injury would impede it’s survival. Their solution was discussed as well as any ideas that were abandoned. Finally, each group presented their prosthesis prototype to the class and stated whether or not they believed it would help the animal survive.
Weeks of exploring the design and iteration process as a team had paid off. Cardboard, duct tape, rubber bands, found items and paint had been transformed into something completely new and useful! Andrew kept tabs on the features, function, and outcome of each group’s prototype to assist in scoring. He also had a chance to handle each prosthetic to provide feedback and guidance to the students. Most projects had very promising aspects that Andrew would point out to the class for discussion. At other times when students were less than confident in their direction, Andrew shared valuable concepts like “Fail Fast” and the importance of learning and improving with each iteration.
When children are challenged by their teachers to reach outside of their comfort zone, valuable lessons are learned and confidence is gained. The next time these students face a problem with an unknown solution, it is our hope they can draw upon this experience to move toward success.
After our visit to Brooklyn STEM Academy, I asked Andrew for his thoughts on the experience-
“It was an honor to get to speak to the kids, offer feedback on their ideas and talk about how Catalyst uses the same tools to understand our customers and end users’ needs. It was a great chance to share how we also build prototypes to learn quickly and improve on our ideas. It is very exciting to see the innovative ways that Brooklyn STEM Academy inspires students.”
Thank You, Brooklyn STEM Academy!
The people at Catalyst are passionate about our profession. We come to work every day with a single mission to help our clients achieve their goals. That sentiment extends beyond the day-to-day business operations. We want to see our community succeed, in this generation as well as the next. Catalyst has extended an invitation to have the class come to our innovation center on a field trip! We will be sure to update you on all the details when available. In the meantime, you can see more of our visit in the video below!