Friday, December 3, 2021
For Immediate Release

Educators and Students Engineer
Hurricane Response Efforts for Mass STEM Week

Quincy, MA – When the next storm hits, consider calling emergency services and an educator! Teachers at sixty-eight middle and high schools put their students’ engineering skills to the test to solve real-world problems during the 2021 Mass STEM Week Challenge: Hurricane Heroes! Storm City, MA. The Challenge empowered students to envision themselves in STEM careers by integrating science concepts and the engineering design process through hands-on, minds-on, inquiry-based activities. Participating educators received teaching support and professional development, a curriculum guide, and a kit of materials from the Wade Institute for Science Education, Salem Sound Coastwatch, and Lloyd Center for the Environment.

Educators experienced Hurricane Heroes! Storm City, MA from the student perspective during an inquiry-based and interactive Pre-Challenge Teacher Professional Development Workshop. They learned how the phenomena-based challenge enabled them to use grade-level appropriate science and technology concepts that address Massachusetts curriculum standards and incorporated engineering concepts with physical and earth science disciplinary core ideas. At their schools, each educator implemented the Challenge in their own way and were amazed at their students’ innovative hurricane response efforts.

Wamsutta Middle School (Attleboro, MA) 

Margaret Macalister has been the STEAM teacher at Wamsutta Middle School in Attleboro for four years, and she is always on the hunt for engaging activities and resources that will support her efforts to bring hands-on, minds-on learning to her classes. When she heard about the Wade Institute for Science Education’s 2021 STEM Week Challenge: Hurricane Heroes! Storm City, MA, she knew this was an opportunity she didn’t want to miss. “Sometimes you find things that are just really a good fit,” she says. Margaret was excited that the program included a Pre-Challenge Teacher Professional Development Workshop, a curriculum packet, and a kit of materials. She found that the workshop prepared her with firsthand and hands-on experience engaging in the design challenge and an opportunity to talk with fellow educators to troubleshoot practical problems that can occur. 

Since she sees half of her school’s student body (about 300 students) twice a week each semester, Margaret is implementing the Challenge over a long period of time in order to accommodate all her students’ ability to fully participate. She describes Mass STEM Week at her school as “STEM Month” and says that it has been a “a very palpable learning experience” for her students and a “huge success.” Margaret has been inspired by the ingenuity of her students as they design shelters and systems to transport water using alternative energy sources. Her students have been so engaged in science learning that they have seemed less prone to distraction and have even broadened the scope of their project to include civil engineering components by manipulating water flow using rock barriers. 

Wamsutta Middle School student designs of storm shelters
Photo courtesy of
Margaret Macalister

Margaret says that the Challenge has expanded upon her 5th grade students’ previous lessons about electricity by providing them with a chance to test alternative energy sources such as solar panels and that she is looking forward to implementing the boat building activity during her 7th grade transportation and buoyancy unit. “I want to applaud the curriculum and materials,” she says. “It was well-thought out and explained. You made it very easy to do the Challenges. I would use this as a regular 5th grade lesson.”

Pollard Middle School (Needham, MA) 

Mark Healey has been the Department Chair and a grades 6-8 engineering educator at Pollard Middle School for eight years. He encourages forward thinking in his students by engaging them in activities that proactively solve real world problems. Mark constantly refines his lessons to ensure they are suitable for all learners and learning settings and says that feedback from fellow educators helps him further adapt activities. The Wade Institute for Science Education’s 2021 STEM Challenge: Hurricane Heroes! Storm City, MA, captured Mark’s interest because it aligned with his goal of connecting students to solutions-focused engineering design activities with large-scale impacts and to a community of learners beyond their classroom. 

Mark says that the Challenge resources “were a good foundation that didn’t need any more granular planning” so he could easily expand and adapt the activities to suit his class structure. He noticed that the Challenge lent itself to teaching using a “cohesive storyline” and thus he implemented activities over four days during the 2021 Mass STEM Week. First, his students learned about weather systems and how hurricanes develop. Next, they designed shelters and rafts while discussing the importance of making scientific models to scale. After they had devised their solutions to save people who were stranded by hurricane floodwaters, Mark asked his students to move water away from buildings using solar power. They then examined why it was important that they solve these problems in sequence and how they might apply their learning to life outside the classroom.

Pollard Middle School student transport vessel design
Photo courtesy of
Mark Healey

Mark used the Game of Floods board game to reinforce his students’ learning and help them make connections to the real world applications of their hands-on activities. “I really liked that piece of it…the idea of gamifying the Challenge,” he says. “The design challenges are such a great hook for kids. The game gave them a chance to think more about it.” While playing out hurricane and flood response scenarios, Mark’s students developed their systems thinking and decision making skills. They reflected on their knowledge of weather systems, explored traffic infrastructure systems that affect evacuation routes, and thought like urban planners developing pathways for sustainable development. Mark hopes that the big take-away from the Challenge for his students will be the need for “proactive planning vs. reactive immediate response” and that they will continue to make connections between their lessons and daily lives.

Mass STEM Week

The 2021 Massachusetts STEM Week, themed “See Yourself in STEM,” was sponsored by the Executive Office of Education and the MA STEM Advisory Council, and the STEM Week Challenge was funded by a grant from the MA STEM Advisory Council. Hurricane Heroes! Storm City, MA was designed with middle school students in mind and to be adaptable for upper elementary and high school grades as well as for in person or remote learning settings. Following Mass STEM Week, students had the opportunity to participate in a virtual challenge showcase to share their innovative solutions to real-world problems with a community of students from other schools, elected officials, and sponsoring organizations. For more information on STEM Week, visit


The Wade Institute for Science Education specializes in providing inquiry-based, hands-on, minds-on, science, technology and engineering professional development for K-12 teachers and informal educators.  For more information, visit or call 617-328-1515.

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