‘We are becoming leaders’: Middle schoolers take charge in InvenTeam

Seventh+grader+Sloane+Fitzgibbon+and+Dahlia+Scarpa+work+together+on+a+a+cloud-based+computer+aided+design+program+called+Fusion+360+during+the+middle+school+InvenTeam+meeting.+InvenTeam+uses+Fusion+360+to+create+design+models+for+Hydra.

Photo credit: Avery Greene

Seventh graders Sloane Fitzgibbon and Dahlia Scarpa work together on a cloud-based, computer-aided design program called Fusion 360 during the middle school InvenTeam meeting. InvenTeam uses Fusion 360 to create design models for Hydra.

By Lizette Gonzalez, Senior Reporter

Archer’s IdeaLab is home to all things engineering and design on campus. Middle and upper school students used to work in that space together for InvenTeam, but this year, that has changed. The change of schedule has caused the team to meet at different times and continue their work without being all together.

Last year, the team was one of 13 schools chosen countrywide that received a grant of $10,000 from the Lemelson-MIT program. This program encourages students to solve crucial issues within the lens STEM.

After an extensive application process, Archer’s InvenTeam has been working to develop an invention that aims to detect fire ambers from rooftops and will potentially prevent wildfires. This invention is named Hydra. Within the group, students work on designing, coding, creating the invention itself or managing the team’s social media and communications.

During remote learning, middle and high school students were able to work together on their invention. Engineering and Design Coordinator Mike Carter said Zoom allowed team bonding to be more accessible and he is disappointed that both middle and upper school participants had to be separated this year.

“One of the few high points of Zoom school was watching them work together and seeing how they mentored each other,” Carter said, “as well as seeing how middle well as seeing how middle schoolers were really stepping up and learning new techniques — they were really contributing to the project as full equal members.”

I have learned how to overcome challenges and grow my leadership skills. Having the support of our teachers and the other leaders through everything pushes us.”

— Hana Cho

Seventh grader Hana Cho said that this has given the middle schoolers an opportunity to lead.

“I knew that InvenTeam would be able to work through this,” Cho said. “Middle schoolers are getting the opportunity to lead sessions, and, also, we will now be more prepared to lead and step into their shoes.”

Additionally, math teacher Eileen Finney, who has worked in partnership with Carter to advise InvenTeam, said that it was important for them to have middle schoolers on the team.

“This leveled the playing field; it showed [the middle school] to see that they can actually be part of this invention, and that they are not peons waiting for their turn to be in high school,” Finney said. “It’s really fun to see them work because you have to get their excitement in middle school and not wait until high school, this makes their lives. They have so much fun.”

Carter added that Archer’s InvenTeam is the only school that has both upper and middle school members compared to other schools in the Lemelson-MIT program. He said that he noticed how middle schoolers have felt more confident leading because of this.

“They’ve really stepped up in developing projects and design challenges for other middle school students. A lot of them have risen to leadership because of this situation, and it shows a lot of maturity and dedication,” Carter said. “Watching them grow in confidence and seeing them go from thinking that they didn’t know enough to teach, to asking questions has been great. [Middle schoolers] have really turned this around and really [have helped] everyone else learn.”

Junior Karen Garcia who is an upper school InvenTeam leader, agreed with Carter and said she appreciates the energy middle schoolers bring as well as Carter’s role.

“I knew that middle school leaders would bring their foot forward, take action and show their independence. Their energy and engagement is very telling about how much they care about this team and is something I admire and look up to,” Garcia said. “Mr. Carter has also been a huge help for us all as we navigate this new reality — he is just such a beacon of knowledge.”

Carter looks forward to the possibility of uniting the team together to test out their invention.

“I’d love to get the team together and take the invention out to the world,” Carter said. “Maybe they would have to be in two separate buses, but whatever it takes to get them out there, so they can see the real impact of their work.”

Seventh grader Lena Sakhnini, who leads a section in the middle school InvenTeam recognizes the struggles that have come with teaching and leading her peers.

“It’s been a challenge to get the new sixth graders to listen to me because they feel like they don’t have to listen to us just because we aren’t upper schoolers,” Sakhnini said. “But, I really love doing it and teaching engineering. We have struggles like everybody does when leading something, but setting those aside, it’s been a great experience and I’m glad I got this chance.”

Since middle school students are being led by fellow middle schoolers, Carter credits the younger leaders for being intuitive.

The middle school InvenTeam works on an egg drop challenge created by fellow middle school leaders in the amphitheater. “We let them have creative freedom and do hands-on challenges because we are students and know how they would like activities,” Sakhnini said. “I love planning projects for us to do.” (Photo credit: Avery Greene)

“They have a really good feel for their peers. They know how to help them or what they need to know,” Carter said. “They are really good at judging when it’s time to go a little deeper and when it’s time to shift activities to keep their peers’ energy going. It’s a product of their evolved leadership skills too.”

Teaching and seeing her classmates learn has been a highlight for Sakhnini, who feels proud of InvenTeam.

“InvenTeam is really inclusive for every age group, and it doesn’t matter if you don’t know anything about engineering,” Sakhnini said. “You can still join because we are learning together as a team because that’s what we still are despite it all: a team.”