Georgia Middle School Uses Tech to Bring Stories to Life

Berkmar Middle School

A few months ago, Infinite Energy awarded education grants to 11 schools in Gwinnett County, Georgia. That’s part of how we help support schools in communities we serve. We give grants for projects based in science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics (STEAM).

Berkmar Middle School was one of those schools, thanks to a project Berkmar sixth-grade teacher Erin S. dreamed up. It’s called the Floorplanner Topography Challenge, and this week we caught up with Erin to find out more about how it’s going.

So, what is the Flooplanner Topography Challenge?

It’s where students use a design program called Floorplanner to design a home for fictional characters taken from stories. Working together, students get the chance to deepen their critical thinking skills and sharpen their analytical abilities. The challenge has them use math, science and even social studies. Each building has to be practical, according to the needs of each character. And each needs to be structurally sound.

I created it for sixth grade, but it can be used for any secondary classroom. I hope it’s a project I can use each year for those students who are STEAM minded.

What inspired you to come up with this idea?

My husband works for an engineering firm, and I’m used to seeing projects done in AutoCad and Revit. I find these projects interesting. And I see how these design programs help to picture what’s happening. I wondered if there was a way for me to bring this into the classroom. I realized I could have students create 3D images of book scenes. It lets them manipulate events and really place themselves into the action.

How have the kids responded?

Students LOVE this project. One of my biggest struggles is getting students to visualize how different characters affect the events in a tale. Students can understand what’s happening, but they sometimes wrestle with seeing the impact of character motivation. With this program, they can see how different events can completely change a story.

Eventually, I’d like students to be able to map out an entire short story. Then, they could recreate it as a 3D world. And that would give them a deeper and more meaningful understanding.

What have you gotten out of it, as an educator?

I like to see (and show) how all the core subjects are interconnected. This project helps me remember that there’s science in social studies and that math and language arts are friends.

Why is a focus on STEAM important?

Students need to be able to function in a society that’s moving at breakneck speeds when it comes to technology. Children today have never existed in a world where computers couldn’t fit in their pockets or where answers weren’t a simple “Hey, Siri” away. In order to prepare them to meet the needs of society, they need a strong foundation in the hard sciences. But there also needs to be a balance with the humanities.

Are grants like these important?

Absolutely! I don’t think I’d be able to explore creative ideas and alternative opportunities for students without them. I often have to buy things for my students—pencils, notebooks, colors, binders, food, clothes and other necessities. I don’t have a lot of left-over funds. With grants, I can help my students achieve the success I know they’re capable of.

Infinite Energy is a proud supporter of childhood education. And we love hearing success stories like the one above. Stay tuned in the weeks and months ahead as we more on the projects from our STEAM schools.