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Ninth grader Caio Jafet folded himself into a kindergarten chair in Mrs. Egan’s class at Katonah Elementary School. Three little girls sat across the table from him and smiled, eyes twinkling. On the table was a square structure made of wooden blocks—a doghouse, specifically.
“We need a roof to keep the dog dry,” one of the girls explained.
Caio got out his ruler and, with the help of his partners, began to measure the structure.
Kindergarten classes across Katonah-Lewisboro School District were filled with similar scenes that morning. Groups of two and three six-year-olds worked with ninth graders in John Jay High School’s Design and Draw for Production class or upperclassmen and women in the engineering track on doghouses made of Lincoln Logs, building blocks, or Legos.
The collaboration was created this past summer when kindergarten teachers Paul Hughes, from Katonah Elementary, Jackie Kovatch, from Meadow Pond Elementary, and Colleen Walsh, from Increase Miller Elementary, met with Steve Zoeller, robotics and engineering teacher at John Jay High School.
The kindergarten teachers wanted to create a project with roots in science and technology, interpreted through engineering and the arts, and based in elements of mathematics. This interdisciplinary approach is known as STREAM (science, technology, research, engineering, art, and math).
When they told Zoeller about their science unit on weather, the doghouse project built itself.
“The doghouse project is an engaging way to introduce young children to the engineering design process,” said Zoeller. "And, it incorporates every aspect of STREAM.”
The children explained to their high school buddy how they designed houses to shelter their dog from rain, snow, wind, and sunlight,” said Paul Hughes, kindergarten teacher at Katonah Elementary. "They watched as their high school buddy measured and sketched their house along with the dog they placed inside. Each kindergarten team also told their high school buddy if they wanted a gable, flat, or shed-style roof and why.”
“The high school students really helped the kindergartners with their designs,” said Colleen Walsh, kindergarten teacher at Increase Miller Elementary. “They made suggestions about better placement of doors and windows and gave good reasons as to why these little changes should be made. It was also nice to see the interaction between the two groups and how actively engaged everyone was.”
The high school students will model each roof in AutoCAD, and then build it in foam core over the next two weeks and deliver it back to the kindergartners.
"We can’t wait for the houses to be sent back so we can retest our roof material theories on them," said Jackie Kovach, kindergarten teacher at Meadow Pond Elementary.
Each child had a “My Doghouse Project” workbook to document drawings of their doghouse design, hold pieces of foil, wax paper, cloth, and paper towel—potential roofing material, and observations of these materials’ performance after class experiments.
Great care was taken with one detail of the day that had nothing to do with STREAM. The high school students, to the extent possible, were matched with a teacher they knew from their elementary school days.
The ninth graders were all smiles as they greeted familiar faces.
“You’re taller than me,” Mrs. Egan said to several of her returning students. “Tell your mom and dad hello.”