It all started with an egg.
Well – an egg, and some videos on how packages of supplies can be safely airdropped into disaster areas without any damage. Seizing the opportunity offered by teacher Jeannine Wilson to experiment and learn more, our Middle School STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) students set about to recreate the scenario through a series of trials.
Yes, the egg was ultimately dropped off a balcony. But, the good news is that in the first go-around, very few of them broke – all thanks, Mrs. Wilson said, to a combination of bubble wrap, garbage bags, tape, and string. In circumstances where there are unlimited materials, it is easier to find the optimal solution to get the egg down in one piece and, when you factor in wind speed and velocity, it's even easier to ensure that the egg will land where it needs to if its container isn't too heavy.
But if you narrow the field, those results are harder to achieve. When students were given limited materials – in this case, only three panels of bubble wrap, two feet of tape, four feet plus any recycled string salvaged from the first set of trials, one paper towel roll, and one toilet paper tube – only one egg survived.
"Overall, the second set of packages were lighter because we were given less, but that's where things like parachutes – which we also made and included in the design – are an important counter-balance. If the chute doesn't come out or there's a strong wind, we miss our target, and if there's less packing around the egg, then it breaks. In a real-life situation, like airdropping supplies, that's not what you want – so really, it's more important to make sure you've tested and re-tested so you get it right," Fisher Brown '25 said.
Parachutes were also used to help guide the landings of the Mars Exploration Rovers, which the class also studied. Had those missions gone wrong, millions of dollars would have been lost, Fisher added.
But Mrs. Wilson said she was still impressed. Despite the results on the second set of trials, it was more important that the students were able to work collaboratively, talk about what worked and what didn't, and in the end, were not afraid to fail.
"The first time around, they got five feet of tape, but after that, only two. What I loved to see was how creative these teams got, cutting the material in half down the middle so they got double – and that's exactly the kind of thinking we hope to inspire in them," she added.
How to "MacGyver" solutions to problems while still learning the basic concepts is just part of the everyday for the STEAM students, who are engaged at any one time in a range of projects like the egg-drop that allow them to create, collaborate, and most of all, understand better what they learn – both theoretically, and in connection to the world around them.
Even better, the way the classroom is structured – larger work spaces led by teams – is becoming more common professionally. Tapping into that mindset, Mrs. Wilson has also given her students time to complete a "20 percent project" – a productivity hack employed by companies like Google to motivate young inventors and innovators. In a scenario where Google's employees were given 20 percent of their time to explore or research areas of interest to them, initiatives and programs like Gmail, Twitter, and Google News were born.
Our STEAM students have just started working on theirs, but so far, they range from architecture to jewelry making, coding, and astronomy.
"Even something as simple as giving them a set of tools and letting them take something apart has inspired them to dive deeper into how things work," Mrs. Wilson said. "Why not foster that creativity? When you give them those unlimited opportunities at hands-on learning, that's when the amazing things happen, and when you offer a curriculum that in this case is also very fluid, they all get the chance to learn the skills they want to learn, but in their own way.
And part of it is trial and error, it's failure, it's taking constructive criticism and starting over. But that's okay – they're growing from it and one day, will be making things better for the generations to come."