After nearly two decades at Taipei American School, people know that Becky Maguire's middle school STEAM classes are a unique hub of activity. In addition to her work as the Middle School STEAM coordinator, Maguire also teaches four different STEAM elective courses: style engineers, toy and game design, simple machines, and, her favorite, "Design the Difference."
Each of these courses is available to Grade 7 and/or 8 students for a semester at a time, and students are allowed to repeat the course multiple times if they desire. Some are grade-specific courses, while others (like Design the Difference) are offered to students of both grades allowing for a mixed-age and ability class makeup.
"We now have students who have taken it several times in a row, and they are referred to as alumni, which naturally generates role models in the class and empowers students," said Maguire.
The Design the Difference course is not a skill or concept-based course; instead, its goal is both simple and broad: using the tools available to them in the Tech Cube, students will make TAS a better place.
In case you didn't read that properly the first time, I'll say it again. The goal of the course is for students, by the end of the semester, to make TAS a better place than when they started.
The course ties in perfectly with the newly revised TAS mission statement, but it has existed (and been serving the TAS community) for several years before the revision:
Taipei American School’s mission is to cultivate an enduring commitment to learning, personal well-being, and service. We provide a broad American-based education with a global perspective that develops students of character who are committed to making the world a better place.
"The idea is to solve a problem," said Maguire. "Students interview potential clients. They take in what the client's needs are, and they go through some kind of blueprint process. They receive feedback and tweaks from the client, and then they go through another round of blueprinting. They receive client approval, and then they begin to make a prototype and periodically show their work to the client."
Each student in the class is working on a project that is personally interesting and that is achievable given the semester-long time constraints of the course.
Recent projects include wooden poster-board holders for a Grade 1 teacher, artwork for (many) the Tech Cube windows and hallways, organized umbrella stands for the TAS lobby, a headphone storage rack for the lower school, renovation of older hallway artwork projects, updating the middle school trophy case, a wooden prop that prevents laptop monitors from moving when using the stylus to draw, mobile bookshelves, shelving for student belongings in the Tech Cube, updating some gender-specific and all-gender bathroom signs, behind-the-seat storage for classroom desks, and many more!
Students in this fall's Design the Difference class have just begun the process of narrowing down clients and potential problems. A few of the problems submitted to students include updated desk dividers, golf targets for the golf team, water bottle holders for P.E. class, quiz machines, interactive artwork, updated trash and recycling containers, additional computer charging options, fixing broken classroom podiums, and updating the carts used by outdoor cleaning staff.
Are you a potential client in need of a solution to your problem that could improve our school? Maguire is always looking for new clients to work with her students. She can be reached at email@example.com .