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Central Middle School of Science, Anchorage, Alaska

STEM Central, The Home of Design Thinking
CHALLENGING SITUATIONS—At Central Middle School of Science, students participate in a series of STEM challenges designed around finding solutions to real-world problems.
CHALLENGING SITUATIONS—At Central Middle School of Science, students participate in a series of STEM challenges designed around finding solutions to real-world problems.
District: 
Anchorage School District
State: 
Alaska
Program category: 
Award Cycle: 

The Central Middle School of Science in Anchorage, Alaska, is truly committed to STEM-based education. “Science really is the soul of our school,” says principal Joel Roylance. “To implement this philosophy, we realized that the creation, design and development of a makerspace was essential.”

The makerspace enables students to explore coding, 3D printing, electronic devices and circuitry, crafting, and building. The space has become a hub of constant activity throughout the day and beyond school hours.

Students have designed and made items ranging from ergonomic chairs to ancestral quilt designs to pill crushers for commercial use, all while applying engineering principles.

The makerspace is also integral to the school’s innovative two-day Design Thinking Challenges event, which not only boosts public interest but also initiates financial support from the district. Throughout the year, the entire school community—students, teachers and staff, as well as parents—participates in a series of these STEM challenges.

Teams apply the engineering design process to create solutions to real-world problems. They create robotic arms, tables that can support hundreds of pounds of pressure, and boats that are light yet strong enough to hold many grams over their own weight.

In the process, students learn that initial failures are simply part of the learning process, and that persistence toward a solution is fun and rewarding.

The added benefit is greater community and school system support for the program, which, Roylance says, will be expanding in coming months.

But, as with many schools involved in similar pursuits, the road to makerspace mastery hasn’t been an easy one. One problem that arose early was how to allow continual access to the space for students while maintaining proper supervision.

Because the makerspace was in the media center, the school’s librarian was often called away on non-maker matters.

A partial fix was found in the installation of a video monitoring system that allows the room to be viewed remotely, but Roylance says a more important and lasting solution was to create multiple smaller design thinking labs attached to classrooms so more students and staff can be involved. 

“Over 23 years I’ve been involved in at least a half-dozen school improvement models, but this is the first time I’ve ever felt like I was involved in something that will truly make a difference,” Roylance says. “The kids who come through here will really have an opportunity and will learn things that can guide the rest of their lives, and that’s pretty exciting.”