Weston Middle School

Technology/Engineering Course Materials

Weston, Massachusetts
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Grade 7 Design-Construction


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This course provides students with an introduction to structural engineering and technology. Key concepts include the engineering design process, the importance of failure in engineering design, trade-offs, and efficiency and elegance in design.

How the course is taught :

  • Learning through a series of challenges
  • Learning through"hard fun"
  • Learning through concentrating on a few key concepts(structural engineering and technology) vs "covering" many topics

"...With video games, kids will go back and do it a hundred times. They'll fail until they win...Failure in an acdemic environment is depressing. Failure in a video game is completely aspirational..."

-New York Times 9/19/10,"Video Games Win a Beachhead in the Classroom"

As students face challenges, failure is not only an ongoing event, it is neccessary. When you start from scratch, never having experienced building structures, you learn by doing. There is no one 'Right Way'- there is only finding your way to a solution that hopefully works. If not- can you describe the specific problem and suggest some kind of possible solution? This is the working model of how we teach. Playing with ideas without dread of failure opens up the way. And so, when failure is necessary, and not to be taken personally, something wonderful happens. Kids start to have fun.

As described in the Times article, one student said that to be good, the fun had to be "hard fun". In other words, not too easy, not too hard.

At times, classes may seem somewhat disorderly. Yet this very disorder, within limits, is essential if students are to take ownership of their work.

As Daniel Pink, in his book Drive, on human motivation ,writes, "...the secret to high performance and satisfaction—at work, at school, and at home—is the deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world...."

This is our job as teachers: to support childrens' natural sense of curiosity and the basic human drive for competency..

Read " A New Approach to Teaching" AAAS

"....In a classroom where science literacy is the goal, teaching should take its time. In learning science, students need time for exploring, making observations, taking wrong turns, testing ideas, and doing things over; time for building things, calibrating instruments, collecting things, and constructing physical and mathematical models for testing ideas; time for learning whatever mathematics, technology, and science they need to deal with the questions at hand; time for asking around, reading, and arguing; time for wrestling with unfamiliar and counterintuitive ideas and for coming to see the advantage in thinking differently.

Moreover, any topic in science, mathematics, or technology that is taught in only a single lesson or unit is unlikely to leave a trace by the end of schooling. To take hold and mature, concepts must not be presented to students just from time to time, but must be offered to them periodically in different contexts and at increasing levels of sophistication...."

The Importance of Failure (ppt)

Why it is important to know how things work (David Macaulay)



Echo Bridge, Newton Lower Falls/Needham ,MA

Revised January 2011 by Jonathan Dietz, dietzj@mail.weston.org