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Readington students focus on innovation and design

Designing a solar house, building a structure to withstand an earthquake or building a dragster are not commonly what most people think middle-schoolers learn.

But at Readington Middle School, students learn that and much more. The Innovation and Design program, offered to sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders at the school, was started several years ago and has grown in popularity, educators said.

“There was a need for a pre-engineering program, something that would focus on 21st-century skills, with kids working together to solve problems,” said Readington Middle School Assistant Principal Brad Currie.

All students at the school take the nine-week Innovation and Design class, with each grade focusing on different subjects. Currie said the curriculum is “technology-driven, with collaborative projects that require higher level thinking in order to solve challenging tasks.

Currie said the program was developed with Matthew Hall, the supervisor of math, science and technology, and teacher Ryan Newcamp, who developed the curriculum.

“They did a fabulous job with the program, and since I’ve been here, every kid loves it because it’s hands on and applicable to their own lives,” Currie said. “They are doing things that are relevant and make sense and get them to think about innovation.”

“They all seem to love the class,” he said of the students. “I have to push my eighth-graders to leave and go to lunch, and normally, lunch is their favorite class.”

He said the school used to have wood shop, but educators wanted to update that and bring in math and science. “Our emphasis is on skills used in the 21st century, on technology, self-direction, collaboration and thinking systematically. We wanted to bring back math and science and combine some of what they learned in shop.”

So the courses also involve building things, using some of the skills previously taught in wood shop.

“We incorporate real-world issues with science and technology,” he said. “For example, sixth-graders are exploring alternative energies. They use Google SketchUp to design solar houses and solar cars. They are also exploring wind energy and wind turbines.”

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