News - Details

Students take journey to space in STEM classroom project


The students in Todd Katz’ seventh-grade STEM class are on a mission. They are trying to rescue Tyro, a fictional space exploration robot that’s gone missing on a distant planet. In order to find him, they’ve got to use a bit of science and a lot of math.

Dr. Peter Meyerhoff, CEO of 10story Learning, a Deerfield-based education company, is also on a mission. Meyerhoff’s team is developing a new kind of math-focused STEM curriculum for elementary and middle school classrooms.

Katz and CSMS are partnering with 10story Learning on a STEM unit titled “Space Academy:  Journey to Titan.” It’s a beta test of the company’s newest STEM project. Meyerhoff is just as happy to learn from students about his program as he is to have the students learn from it.

“It’s one thing for us to be inside our office designing something. It’s incredibly helpful to then see it in the classroom,” Meyerhoff said. “The process we use as designers is the same process we want kids to use in this project: designing, testing, analyzing, and learning from what works.”

Principal Mark Pilut likes the program because it engages students to use their math skills. While the program is being tested at Carl Sandburg this year, Pilut said it’s been a viable and useful part of the STEM curriculum.

A key to its success is getting students to figure out problems using math, instead of just doing math problems. In this case, the problem is organizing a rescue of the missing robot. In order to save Tyro, students build hand-sized “extraterrestrial exploration vehicles” using a STEM product called Circuit Cubes. They then try to find the point on Saturn’s moon Titan where Tyro’s signal was lost by calculating how long it took the robot to traverse Titan’s frozen lakes and sandy terrain.

Over the course of the 15-hour project, students used graphs, tables, formulas,  and equations to find Tyro and reactivate its transmitter.  In a thrilling conclusion, students faced an emergency: an asteroid was headed directly for their position. Working together, students had to figure out how each of the eight vehicles could return to the “warp zone” at precisely the same time and return to Earth.

The idea is to teach abstractions like unit rate and percentage through concrete experiences. Meyerhoff called it a story problem that’s come to life. The company’s “project-based math” approach, he said, means that activities are “purposeful, collaborative, and hands-on.”

As a classroom teacher, Katz likes it because it challenges students.

“I like the productive academic struggle,” he said. “Easy is boring. I’m always thinking about how to make it more interesting. And I think this is working.”

Back to news