MORRISTOWN, NJ – Unity Charter School middle school students earned first place in Destination Imagination’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) competition last night. Their award was in engineering design. In the last two weeks, Unity students have won two first-place awards in STEM competitions. Destination Imagination holds a hands-on competition that fosters students’ creativity, courage and curiosity through open-ended academic challenges in the fields of STEM, fine arts, and service learning. The engineering challenge asked students to explore and apply engineering skills and tools to design and build solutions for specific applications. These included:
- Design and build a freestanding structure that will roll down a ramp. The structure needed to collide with a safety pole to earn a Collision Bonus.
- Begin Weight Placement without repositioning or touching the structure after it comes to rest on the Tester Base to earn a Precision Bonus.
- During Weight Placement, test how much weight the Structure can hold by stacking the Pressure Board and weights onto the structure.
- The team had to all design, cut, shape, and assemble the structure materials.
What makes the Destination Imagination challenge different from other STEM challenges is that the Destination Imagination competition is completely self-guided by the students. This requires a bit of self-motivation. Teachers and other adults are unable to assist or facilitate. Nonetheless, students committed their time to their projects in class, after school, and on Saturdays to work together to design stages, write scripts for plays and develop moving parts, in order to meet the elements of the challenge. The students put in more than 70 hours of work to be successful. Throughout the process, students learned patience, flexibility, persistence, ethics, respect for others and their ideas, and the collaborative problem-solving process.
“As a former science teacher,” said Connie Sanchez, the school’s Executive Director, “I find that these types of rigorous educational opportunities give students agency over their learning. They foster self-determination, autonomy, capacity, and capability. While many educational institutions are focused on pedagogy, where teachers are the center of learning, here at Unity Charter School, we are very purposely moving toward a heutagogical approach where learning is non-linear, metacognitive, and independent. We are incredibly proud of all our students and excited about this opportunity for our Destination Imagination team. We are also thankful for our team members that give up so much of their time to make these opportunities available to our students. I cannot wait to see how well they perform at Destination Imagination’s global finals in Kansas City, Missouri.”