Homer High challenges students with problem-solving event

Dec 16, 2017

Becca Chapman, Troy Lane and Kalen Molodih pose next to their bridge.
Credit KBBI

During the last period of the school day, students at Homer High School often get free time to catch up on their work. But this Wednesday, students did something a little different. They participated in the high school’s first school-wide problem-solving event.

All high school students filed into the gym as teachers helped them find their teams. Some had an idea of what this problem-solving event was all about. But some, like Elijah Gunderson, had no clue what was in store.

“I think it’s going to be some science thingamajig,” he said.  “But I don’t know. I don’t know. I’m excited though.” 

In groups of four or five, students built single-support-bridges out of random materials such as straws and paper clips. Judges awarded them points on different elements like the length and width of the bridge. Science teacher Bruce Rife said the goal was to change things up. He said teachers get this tendency to teach to standardized tests.

“We wanted to create scenarios that was just, you know, creative [and] innovative,” Rife said. “And one thing I’ve observed—it’s the kid that struggles with academics that really excels at this.”

Anything goes with this exercise. There was just one rule: no cell phones. But inside the gym, phones weren’t a problem as students were completely focused on the task at hand.

Student Becca Chapman described her group’s unique structure:

“We have a bunch of straws standing up and down and we have one straw supporting the original straw,” she said. “And then we have an arm coming off, holding a bowl thing of marbles and then on the other side we have another bowl of marbles just duct taped on.”

It didn’t look like a traditional bridge. Instead, it looked like a crane with two bowls of marbles attached to either side of the arm.

Not everybody was happy with their creation. Some teams didn’t have time to finish. When asked what their creation was, one team laughed and answered: a failure.

Teachers gave prizes to the bridges with the most points. But they said the purpose wasn’t to get students to build the best structures. It was to inspire them to work outside of the box and outside of their social circles. Student Tristyn Romeril said, “I learned that it’s really fun to meet new people basically. Even people that are older than you. It is really kind of intimidating at first but as you get to know them, it gets fun.”

Overall, most students seemed engaged in the project throughout its entirety. Teachers said that engagement was what made this event a success, and they hope to do more events like it in the future.