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Middle schoolers put learning to good use

With constant advancements in technology and the constantly changing world, teachers have to mold their lesson plans and teaching strategies to help students be better prepared for the real-world.

There is a big push for project-based learning at John Young Middle School in Mishawaka and it is paying off for their students.

Also know as STEM, STEM-based learning puts an emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and math.

This type of learning often comes in the form of hands-on projects, as well as learning by trial and error.

“I think it’s awesome that they’re starting to see an importance in science and STEM and things like that. Those thinking skills are critical for these kids at this point,” said 7th grade teacher Tracey Ackerley who teaches science.

She said students get excited when they realize what they are learning in the classroom is applicable to real-life.

"Our science program is very hands on. Most every unit we cover has several labs where the kids are discovering and learning hands-on instead of reading and answering questions, which I think is awesome and a lot of fun," added Ackerley.

December has been an exciting month for students already. The First Lego League Robotics team and Fluid Power Challenge team have both brought back awards.

This past weekend, the FLL team placed 9th in the state competition out of 52 total teams. The Fluid Power Challenge team also got an award recently for earning the most points during their competition.

“I think I got like a huge perspective on how to accomplish a big goal because at the beginning I had no idea how I was going to do this and at the end I’m like ‘oh this is so easy,’” said Troy Crooks who is a member of the Fluid Power Challenge Team.

He said he has learned how to build a machine from the ground up and also have that machine be able to complete challenges.

"We build the whole-thing, we design it and it has to work with syringes and that’s where we push one and the other as to move our machine. It’s all about being simple. You can’t make this huge, complex machine,” he added.

He said that during competitions, time management is crucial. "You only have three hours to build a machine so you have to figure out how to manage your time and how you need to design it.”

Troy's twin brother Mark Crooks is a part of the First Lego League Robotics team and said projects like these will help him get a kick start on his future career.

"It helps us be leaders but it’s also good because it sort of puts a footprint or a base that we can start robotics on if we feel that could be our future job. Robotic engineering would be a pretty cool job,” said Mark Crooks.

However, students are not keeping their success limited to the school walls. Last week the school finished out a month long canned food drive where they will be able to give back to the community.

“The canned food drive we just completed, we raised over 6,000 items. That was 1,000 more items than we did last year,” said 8th grader and Treasurer of the Student Council Blake Maskevich.

Students are not only learning from books and projects, but also about the spirit of giving.

“The feeling was amazing because it’s this joy and happiness that you can help others, not just yourself,” Maskevich added.

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