All hands on deck, for credit and the community

Eighth-grade STEM class builds storage sheds for Grandville Middle School

A Grandville student measures the top of one of the sheds at the middle school

An eighth-grade math teacher for 21 years, Bruce Marvel’s favorite classroom project was drafting and creating aerodynamic paper airplanes with his students.

“There’s a passion that you can see when kids are working hands-on,” Marvel said. “When we’re working on projects like that, I can tell they’re really excited about learning.”

Members of the fourth-hour STEM class at Grandville Middle School listen to Bruce Marvel during their class period

Inspired by that experience, and with 20 years of construction background, Marvel approached the middle school principal, superintendent and then the school board with his idea about a trade-based course last year.

“I’ve been extremely happy about the support we’ve gotten for this course,” he said. “This is an educational option that students need to have and want to have.”

Now the instructor of the first eighth-grade STEM class offered at Grandville Middle School, Marvel gets to see students working hands-on every day. Currently, 75 students are enrolled in the class, but Marvel predicts that 150 will be enrolled next year. A seventh-grade STEM class has also been added to the roster.

“This is the first year so kids didn’t know about it as much, but the buzz now is that kids want to be involved in the class, they want to be here building things,” Marvel said.

An eighth-grade student writes down the measurements taken by his classmates to bring back to the classroom

Nailing Solutions to a Need

For the first 12 weeks of the semester, students in the STEM class are constructing sheds that will be used for storage on middle school property.

“As big as this building is, there is very little storage,” Marvel said. “This is the students’ project, this is their building; it really means something.”

After the sheds are finished, the maintenance department will take them over for storing athletic equipment, community education projects and other school materials.

Jackson Zuke’s favorite part about the shed project is the details.

“Putting the nails in (is) my favorite part because it’s satisfying to see it done,” Jackson said. “Plus I don’t have to write any papers.”

Jackson also values the opportunity to get out of the traditional classroom for part of the day.

“I like being outside,” Jackson said. “Plus it’s fun when we have problems in the class because we get to work in the class to figure out a solution.”

The second half of the class will involve building smaller sheds that will be sold to the public at cost.

“People will have to understand that there may be some mistakes, some crooked edges or some nails bent over that shouldn’t be, but the kids are learning,” Marvel said. “Right now, the response, from what I’m understanding, is phenomenal.”

Students will also build model dragster cars in the second semester, utilizing power tools like a drill press, sander, scroll saw and a wind tunnel to test the cars.

A student in the eighth-grade STEM class listens to instructions from his teacher

Time Flies in Class

The most impressive part about the students enrolled in the class is their dedication to the projects, Marvel said.

“Kids will sit here and unload materials from the truck for the whole hour if that’s what we need to do, because it means that tomorrow they get to build with them and create something,” he said.

Tiston Huynh can’t believe how fast the class period seems to go every day.

“Sometimes we get to class and it feels like the bell rings right away because we’re busy,” he said. “It is definitely the class that goes fastest for me.”

Though an official project hasn’t been decided on for next year’s class, students will be building something that will benefit the Grandville community.

“We are very excited about adding this class and the seventh-grade STEM class,” Principal Kenneth See said. “Both are doing highly engaging activities that are hands-on, and these classes are teaching about real world technology and engineering skills that include problem-solving. Both classes are quickly becoming our most popular electives.”

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A 2017 graduate of Grand Valley State University and a lifelong teacher’s kid, Hannah Lentz has worked as a journalist in and outside the Grand Rapids area for more than five years. After serving as editor-in-chief at the GVSU student newspaper, Hannah interned at the Leelanau Enterprise where she learned a lot about community journalism. In addition to her work for School News Network, Hannah has worked as a freelance blogger in the furniture industry, focusing on design trends, and as a social media manager for World Medical Relief in Detroit. Read Hannah's full bio.

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