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Engineering Failures and Successes

September 28, 2021 | Melissa McCallihan

Can you build a tower that will be not only the tallest of the class but also successfully hold an observation deck on the top level? That was the question sixth through eighth grade students faced for their first engineering design challenge of the year.  Before their build, students observed and considered incredible engineering feats like Burj Khalifa and horrible engineering failures like the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. Throughout the project the Engineering Design Process guided their model making.

The Engineering Design Process is not a new concept for most of the middle school students. In previous years they have built a better shoe and created shapes to hold a human. The steps of the process are to ask questions, research for clarifying information, brainstorm ideas, develop and test a model, reflect and refine their model. These are good guidelines when starting any project in science.

For this build there were constraints on materials and on time. A marshmallow at the top was our observation tower. It’s surprising how much a marshmallow can weigh! We were amazed when it toppled some of our builds. We rejoiced for each other when the tower was successful and learned from our mistakes as well. The winner was built by a group of seventh graders. Their tower was 31 inches tall!


Melissa McCallihan

Teacher, Grade 6; Science Grades 6-8

Teaching children to take risks and fail well is important to Melissa McCallihan, who has taught for over 30 years. She believes children learn as much through their failures as they do through their successes. She celebrates both in her classroom. In collaboration with the middle school director, art teacher, and other fourth and fifth grade teachers, Mrs. McCallihan has been instrumental in developing the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) program, an extension of the Lower School’s Shared Space model. “STEAM is where students solve problems and sometimes get it wrong,” says Mrs. McCallihan when asked about risks and failing well. “Students need to learn how to do that with grace, and to try again with grit and determination.” Mrs. McCallihan currently teaches sixth through eighth grade science.

Mrs. McCallihan cares deeply about relationships with her colleagues, students, and families. She works hard to make and maintain connections on a personal and professional level. And follows the mantra “Worship God, Love All.”

When not at school, you can find Mrs. McCallihan searching out a fantastic restaurant or hidden sight to see in New York City.

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