The next time you need a good team to design a playground, you might want to call some of the fifth graders from Rome Corners Intermediate School who completed the STEAM course a few weeks ago.

The students, led by RCI STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) teacher Michelle Minter, spent the semester learning about the Engineering Design Process. They used the process to then tackle problems and strengthen collaborative problem solving skills, using various design and presentation tools to navigate real-world challenges. Some of the projects this semester included “Steamville Bridge Design,” “Global Issues and Inventions” and most recently, “The OSD Playground Problem.”

Throughout these challenges, students were asked to examine each phase of the EDP (Ask, Imagine, Plan, Create and Improve) before moving onto the next phase. Minter said it’s a process that “forces students to be intentional about planning their work and collaborating within a group.”

“Oftentimes when students are presented with a challenge, they’re excited and want to jump right in to create the first solution that comes to mind,” she said in an email to the Observer.

The final “Playground Problem” unit aimed to improve the school experience for future fifth graders using a real-life scenario.

Students learned how teams of teachers, architects and students have participated in various design elements of the new OSD elementary school being built in Fitchburg, and how existing schools may soon undergo renovations. They then designed a virtual playground and provided ideas for improving the RCI playground, as well as building the playground at the new Fitchburg school.

Students “learned to look beyond themselves and consider the experience different learners might have on a playground,” Minter said, such as those who “might love using the basketball hoops, (while) others prefer looking for bugs or immersing themselves in natural settings.”

“The value of this experience goes beyond redesigning a playground, or implementing the EDP,” she said. “Students are connecting the dots between creativity, empathy and technology … a trifecta that is certain to cultivate powerful change agents in a world that desperately needs them.”

Email Unified Newspaper Group reporter Scott De Laruelle at