Battle Bots in STEAM

Students in the YMCA Academy middle school recently completed a mechanical system design project as part of their most recent unit in the school’s Science Technology Engineering Arts and Math (STEAM) program. During this project, students shared and extended each others’ ideas as they applied knowledge of simple machines to build complex mechanical systems. Along the way, they developed practical understanding of fluid properties that could be used to improve their designs through inquiry-based use of hydraulic and pneumatic systems. Instead of battle bots, students participating in online-only learning engineered their own mousetrap-powered cars, developing the same understanding and skills while completing these devices. In the end, each student engineered a unique machine, their own complex system designed for friendly competition.

Stop Disasters Game

It’s no secret that natural disasters have a huge impact on people’s livelihoods and the surrounding environment. Although millions of people are affected every year, we can reduce the human, physical and financial cost of disasters by understanding the risks of applying the best methods of prevention and mitigation.

In our unit on natural disasters, students played a game that tasked them with managing the impacts of a natural disaster of their choice. They played realistic disaster scenarios and their role was to plan and construct a safer environment for their town in order to minimize the damage of the natural disaster.

Students needed to know how the natural disaster formed and the risks it posed in order to prepare for what was to come. They started out with a set budget and had to determine where to spend it. It’s not hard to spend money, but it is difficult choosing which areas to protect, where to place your defences and how to save as many lives as possible.

With multiple playthroughs, students gained a better understanding of the logistics and factors involved in preparing for such terrible events. They began to realize that they didn’t have an infinite amount of money, they had to carefully consider all options, and they often had to make very difficult decisions. Overall, it was an engaging experience that forced students to think about the consequences their actions carry and how the decisions they make directly involve the people they are trying to save.

At-Home Science Projects

The grade 9 science class has been busy so far this octomester! In our first unit we learned about the steps of the scientific method and how we actually use these steps to conduct scientific experiments in our daily lives (i.e. Why isn’t my toaster working?). We practiced designing experiments, making sure that only one variable was changed so that it would be a fair test.

For our chemistry unit we learned about physical and chemical properties. We examined different foods in our kitchen, using our senses to describe them and completed density and viscosity tests. Students also conducted their own solubility experiments. When discussing chemical properties we explained reactivity with the classic vinegar and baking soda demo and tested the acidity of various household products using red cabbage as a pH indicator.

To bring these units together, students had to design an experiment to test products at home. They came up with a testable question, described the properties of the products involved, went through all of the steps of the scientific method and shared their results with the class. We had a wide range of questions, including “Which glue dries faster?”, “Which chip is the spiciest?”, and “Which car will go farther?”.

Students enjoyed completing their experiments at home, but are happy to now be back in school every other day where we can do more engaging activities together (but still 6ft apart!).

Academy of Anacondas

Is there an everyday challenge that you experience and think to yourself “AGH, I wish someone would create a…to fix this”? For the last few months the middle schoolers have entered a Dragons Den competition (we’ve renamed it the Academy of Anaconda’s). Their task has been to think about these everyday problems and create a service or product that solves the problem. Eventually these students will be pitching their business to a panel of the Academy’s finest business Anacondas. The students have gone through many steps along the way. One of the first steps that the students went through was thinking about what makes a good business and what makes a good pitch. As a class we analyzed various pitches and businesses presented on Dragon’s Den and we had guest lecturers come to speak with the class about the challenges and triumphs of developing a business.

These guest lecturers included a founder of a Kombucha company and an Art Production company based out of Toronto. Once we had a better understanding of what makes a good business plan and pitch, the students were off to the races. They figured out what their business was going to be, who their niche audience was, and created models of their product or plans of their service. Throughout the process students have given and received a lot of feedback about their business. They have supported one anothers projects as well as received feedback from experts in their respective fields. You can see their mini-pitch along with some of the feedback they received here. We look forward to continuing to fine tune these business plans, developing websites for their businesses and ultimately preparing for the big day where students pitch their ideas to a panel of Anaconda’s.

– Dayna and MJ

Living Things Big and Small

Middle school students at the Academy have started 2021 learning about life sciences. Students learned about the qualities that we use to define what is living and explored how certain living things interact within ecosystems.

Since then, they have honed in on the basic unit of life, the cell! They investigated tissues using virtual microscopes and discovered variations between the structures found in plant and animal cells. Next, they demonstrated their learning by making cell models, using a legend and written descriptions to highlight functions and interactions between the structures making up these microscopic marvels.

Moving forward, they’ll continue to build on their understanding of cell processes and learn how cells can work together to form functioning tissues, organs and systems in multicellular organisms.