Middle School students at Nueva are given many opportunities to cultivate and continually practice Design Thinking in the context of engineering and computer science through our I-Lab program. For each of the four years of Middle School, students cycle through one semester of Design Engineering and one semester of Computer Science, taught in the I-Lab by our faculty at the Hillsborough campus.
Our core Design Engineering curriculum allows students to gain hands-on experience with all of the strategies and phases of the Design Thinking process. Students are challenged to hone their abilities to effectively interview, observe, identify needs, brainstorm, prototype, and iterate, all in the service of building the key mindsets of empathy, creative confidence, and learning from failure. As part of the prototyping process, students also learn to use a variety of tools safely and responsibly, including the laser cutter, 3D printers, hand tools, shop tools, as well as how to prototype with electronics and physical computing platforms. Example projects in Design Engineering have included designing board games for children in hospitals and inventing methods to create more sustainable housing.
In our core Computer Science classes, our program focuses on further developing students’ skills in computational thinking (decomposing a problem, recognizing patterns, abstracting information, and designing algorithms) as well as the craft and mechanics of programming (understanding syntax, using integrated development environments, and debugging), through hands-on practice with coding in a text-based language. Students continue to grow their repertoire of computational concepts and apply them in small-scale software projects. Our courses also place emphasis on cultivating habits of minds appropriate to computer scientists, such as the ability to deal with complexity and ambiguity, and the patience to persist through difficult problems.
In addition to our core curriculum, Middle School students can enroll in our elective courses. These electives allow students to dive deeply into special topics related to design, engineering, and computer science. While offerings can change, in recent years, we offered electives including Design Thinking the Nueva Garden, Embedded Systems, Code+Art, Programming Workshop, and Light-Up Art. Finally, some of our Middle School students opt-in to our co-curricular programming such as FIRST Lego League, FIRST Tech Challenge, and drop-in, open hours during recess and after school to work on personal projects with mentorship from I-Lab faculty.