In Michelle Fisher’s 9th grade Honors STEM class, students are huddled in groups around laptops, furiously working out solutions to combat the effects of or to prevent wildfires in Colorado; that is their take on the Red Rocks High School Innovation Challenge. This year’s overarching theme is Sustainable Designs in Energy, Water, Food, and Environment (or COVID-19 related project). Using a required set of parameters, students develop, prototype, and implement solutions with industry input. Top teams from schools the compete at Red Rocks to see whose innovation will be the winner!
Michelle’s students spend considerable time researching a topic, identifying specific problems, interviewing stakeholders, and meeting with industry professionals that focus on ideas related to their project. They consider multiple solutions, test and get feedback on them from their industry partners, and may wind up going back to the drawing board to come up with their best solution.
The Consummate Compost team–Aaron, Daniel, Liliana, and Melanie– have battled stress, multiple iterations of their final product, and sought out the ever-present work-life balance to develop a presentation and product that meets the standards set by the challenge as well as helping people. Liliana stated it best, “Helping people is so important. . . it propelled us to work extra hard” (personal interview, 4/27/22).
The team realized early they had good working chemistry. They understood that the outcomes of the project were dependent on both the individual and the group. And everyone was motivated; it was about helping people, true. But there is also a terrific prize package from Red Rocks Community College, including a scholarship!
Daniel noted that there were many challenging aspects of the project. “It was hard to keep up with daily work. Lots was happening at the same time. We realized that we had to trust the process, [as well as] having a life outside of class” (personal interview, 4/27/22). Their Honors STEM teacher Michelle added that this project is a culmination of skills they learn across the semester. They learn about collaborative roles, time management, and organization, to name a few!
In the end, the team of students not only created a high quality project (and cheer them on at the Innovation Challenge at Red Rocks Community College!), but they also continued to learn about the intimate link between content area learning and the Essential skills it takes to develop a lifelong-learner’s mindset.