Columbia River Gorge Elementary first graders are getting a helping hand from Jemtegaard Middle School students to practice problem solving and engineering skills as they explore how the human hand works.

“We are currently studying the whole human body which includes the skeletal and muscular systems,” said Allison McGranahan, CRGE first grade teacher.  “Using paper hands along with string, straws and tape to represent muscles, bones and tendons, older students helped the younger students examine how these systems work together to make a hand move.”

Last year, McGranahan and fellow first grade teacher, Sydney Termini, were looking for projects to support this learning and were drawn to the engineering component of this lesson. “This work required a bit of one-on-one help, so we approached the middle school and they agreed to assist us,” McGranahan said. This year JMS science teacher, Greg Lewis, recruited his Robotics class to lend a hand.

The project work was completed over two days, September 27 and 30. “Some of our first graders were a bit overwhelmed the first day with so many instructions and materials,” said McGranahan.  “But having a buddy beside them to ask questions and give advice made all the difference.”

“We are always looking for additional opportunities for middle school students to explore engineering experiences and to practice leadership and teamwork,” said Lewis.  “This project challenges our students and helps them to get outside of themselves and engaged with younger students.”

“It is exciting to see these first graders looking deeper into the study of a body part,” said Termini. “The involvement of middle school students made it wonderful for our students to hear from someone other than a teacher on a project.  This has been good for them to be able to talk through design issues and get attention from middle school students.  It’s very fun!”

“We are also seeing energy and focus on this work from some students who might usually be reluctant to participate in projects,” McGranahan said.  Lewis commented that he too saw the same benefit with excellent participation from several of his middle school students who do not always get involved.