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Solving Problems in Science

June 8, 2021 | Melissa McCallihan

Do you like solving problems? I do. Especially if I can find a more efficient way of doing something. I really love helping students solve engineering problems. This term’s science focus is on the engineering design process and using the process to solve problems.

The engineering design process is a set of steps Museum of Science in Boston outlined that most engineers work through when they are solving problems. Students reviewed the engineer design process steps while creating a catapult with tongue depressors, rubber bands and masking tape. The catapult was to send a PingPong ball as far as possible and maybe farther than another team. Then the challenge was to get the ball in a cup five feet away. This required the ability to adjust the tension of the rubber band, and consider the angle of their catapult. Many students successfully met the goal, getting the ball in a cup more than five times.

Their next task involved an accessibility problem which was how to get someone in a wheelchair from outside our building to the elevator. Students researched building codes and ramp requirements. They created prototypes that included ramps that roll into place as well snap onto the existing stairs.

Now, students have been challenged to think about three other problems: 1. what are other accessibility or mobility issues that need a solution? 2. How can you cool a floor of the school using only fans and open windows as the source of air, and 3. a free choice problem to solve. Some students have been inspired by our hot days to do problem number two. Some are thinking about a plant watering system that uses collected rain water or powering a car using air flow reflecting their desire to take good care of our planet.

The best part of solving problems is the process, the discussion and the excitement the students express during a science class. If we could figure out how to harness that energy we’d power the world!


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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