By Beth Treffeisen
By the end of a three-week educational session on engineering, parents of the school children were invited to the Kingsley Montessori School in the Back Bay, to watch their five-year-olds give a presentation, speak in front of a large crowd and show-off their product – a self-designed shoe.
“Some parents’ eyes watered up and jaws dropped,” said Melanie Flores, who was a technology and engineering teacher at the school for the past five years. “Showing off their shoes was like showing off a baby. There was immense ownership and they were proud of their work.” An MIT graduate and educator, Flores worked with the Montessori School preschool program to develop a child-friendly version of a world-famous MIT class to demonstrate what children are capable of when storytelling, imagination and design converge.
Flores will be part of 13 speakers to share the stage at the TEDx Jacksonville’s ‘We, The People’ on October 14 at the Florida Theatre. There, Flores will speak in front of her biggest audience thus far – close to 1,000 people – to share how kids are a lot more capable of doing things than adults may expect.
An engineer by trade, Flores wanted to figure out a way to get her background into the classroom without just doing a typical science fair.
She remembered back in college there was a class where students were handed a cardboard box filled with electrical wires and other trinkets. Out of those pieces each student had to make a robot.
“Well, I thought maybe use duct tape instead of wires and make shoes instead of robots,” said Flores.
Over the course of the project, Flores visits each class four to six times for about 45 minutes to an hour each time to lead the kids through the engineering design process. Through using the Museum of Science guidelines the kids imagined, planned, created the shoes (the prototypes) and tested them out.
Each student was given scrap material such as felt, cardboard, fake leather swatches, pipe cleaners and more to create the shoes. Tests include being able to withstand walking from one point to another and being able to endure being jumped in ten times.
“Some really looked funky and actually worked,” said Flores. “It was just a lot of imagination that went into these shoes.”
For example, one student wanted to make his shoes water proof so he tested it under the sink. When his shoes continued to stick to his feet he added felt to the inside to solve it.
Throughout the design process Flores documents the progress through photographs.
At the end, she handed each student a stack of photographs of their work. The teachers helped each student curate a handwritten journal that documents the progress of the shoes.
To cap off the project, parents were welcomed into the classroom to see each student give a presentation, with their notebooks projected on a screen, and show off their self-designed, tested, products.
“They all spoke and were not scared because they were so proud of what they’ve done,” said Flores. “We’re not the experts – they are because they made it themselves.”
Flores said that most people didn’t think that the kids could do it. One teacher was afraid that a particularly shy student would hide under the chair when the time came to give her presentation. But, when the time came she got up and was excited to take part of it.
“Kids have no filters,” said Flores. “What they don’t know, what they can’t say in public are the same qualities that make them not realize what they don’t know yet…that’s their greatest strength.”
The program was started in 2015. Since then, close to a hundred students have gone through the program. “All did it and loved it!” said Flores.
This work has been published in a number of locations including Boston Museum of Science Engineering is Elementary blog in September 2016, Tufts University Center for Engineering Education and Outreach newsletter in October 2016, the Independent Teacher (e-journal of the National Association of Independent Schools) in the fall of 2016 and more.
This past school year was the last year that Flores will be conducting at the school. Although the program will continue, Flores, a current South End resident said that she is currently in the process of moving with her family to Atlanta.
But, Flores said that she couldn’t have done this without the help and support of the teachers at the Kingsley Montessori School. Together the faculty and teachers decided to make this into a major capstone project for the kids and invited parents in because they really wanted them to show what they have learned.
“It took guts to do that,” said Flores. “We had no idea how it would go…it really took courage to try this bold idea.”
Flores, along with preparing for her TEDx speech will be continuing to do this work as she makes her move south. A video of the presentation will be available online after the event.