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Larsen visits Marysville Middle School

Marysville Middle School eighth-grader Peyton Draper explains his robot to U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen on May 15. - Kirk Boxleitner
Marysville Middle School eighth-grader Peyton Draper explains his robot to U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen on May 15.
— image credit: Kirk Boxleitner

MARYSVILLE — When U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., made a tour through Science, Technology, Engineering and Math education sites in Snohomish County on May 15, the students of Marysville Middle School were able to teach him a few lessons.

MMS Principal Susan Hegeberg proudly pointed to the 2012 Washington Achievement Award that her school had received from the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, for ranking among the top 5 percent of middle schools in the state for closing the achievement gap.

Hegeberg attributed this success to a curriculum that makes STEM subjects hands-on and accessible, with MMS science and math teacher Robert East citing his project-based lessons to the students of Tulalip Heritage High School as an inspiration for his eighth-graders’ current lessons.

“Whatever the skills we want to develop in these kids, we have them apply those,” East said. “Once you get the kids engaged and involved, there’s a big turnaround.”

Hegeberg cited the dramatic gains that MMS students have made in meeting state math standards.

“You’ll have these students who might be disengaged from regular math or science lessons, but they’ll spend hours after school building robots,” Hegeberg said. “You can give them a foundation on how things work, and they’ll think they’re just playing with Legos.”

MMS eighth-grader Peyton Draper recounted to Larsen how he’d built a Lego robot based on a mythological beast to try and map out how its physical structure could function.

“You learn how to convert rotational to linear energy,” Peyton said. “As you research and design how you’ll put your robot together, it teaches you creativity and persistence.”

“How many times did you fail before you got it to work?” Larsen asked.

“More times than I can count,” Peyton laughed.

Fellow eighth-graders Adrian Gunerius and Isaiah Broome demonstrated their Sumo-Bots to Larsen, explaining how the robots’ sensors look for the black areas inside the ring and the white line forming its border. Ultimately, they program the Sumo-Bots to operate autonomously.

“We really focus on quality work,” East said, as he summarized another lesson, which asks students to figure out how to move a 300-pound safe to the second floor of a building. “Some of our ideas in the brainstorming phase are silly, but nothing is done slipshod. We’ll even change the constraints in the middle of the exercise, because real-world problems change all the time, so our students need to adapt their solutions.”

East also teaches applied math for sixth-graders, and his students described the process of building a small stage.

“Like any architects, they submitted their initial plans, and the faculty gave them feedback on their proposals,” East said.

The seventh-grade technical math students presented their projects to Larsen, each one based on a different type of business, from candy sales to medical fields. While Hope Caswell and Sadie Montero determined how much to mark their products’ prices up or down, depending on their manufacturing costs and profit margins, aspiring veterinarian Madison Hines and prospective neurosurgeon Amaya Castaneda considered how deep and long to make their surgical incisions.

“I’m as impressed by their presentation skills as I am by what they’ve learned,” Larsen said. “They clearly show confidence in their knowledge and skills. That’s important, because success comes not just from designing things, but also being able to explain them to others.”

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