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Deeply-Rooted Learning Packed into 250 Square Feet: Eighth Graders Design Tiny Houses

Laura Oeschger

The tiny house movement has taken mainstream media by storm. With vastly-popular television shows on HGTV and DIY Network, consistent news coverage, and the emergence of tiny house villages, it seems the tiny house trend may be here to stay. The tiny house movement caught the attention of Middle School science teacher Caroline Feldman over the summer, and she knew she had to bring the phenomenon to life in her classroom.

“I wanted to add more substance to the sustainability curriculum, more hands on projects,” said Feldman. My summer obsession with the show Tiny House Nation inspired the project.” After Caroline’s inspiration struck, she crafted the “Tiny House Project.” In groups of three to four, students needed to produce a Power Point or video to convince Feldman and other faculty members to leave behind their homes and join the tiny house movement.

To add to that challenge, the students designed their own tiny houses using TinkerCAD, an architectural design program, and worked with Upper School engineering teacher Chris Fornaro to have their designs 3D-printed. The tiny houses needed to be designed completely “off the grid,” meaning they could not be hooked up to any utility service.

We’re Going Off the Grid
Going “off the grid” required the students to think about sustainability in a whole new light. With no access to electricity, water, sewer, or gas, how would a person carry on their lives as usual?

“Their power source had to be wind, solar, or a combination of both,” explained Feldman. “They researched water collection options like rainwater harvesting and gray water drainage. They also had to have a composting toilet,” she said.

While researching the various ways to create a fully sustainable and environmentally friendly home excited the students, the creative challenges of fitting everything into 250 square feet intrigued them most.

“Remembering to include everything and deciding what to leave out was hard,” said Maxwell Orr, eighth grade student. “You can’t have a bath and a shower, because it’s a waste of space. You really have to condense. You have to give up a lot.”

“Nothing was just one thing,” explained Margaret Fleischner, eighth grade student.

“Our couch lifted up for storage underneath. Everything needed a thought-out space; it can’t just be thrown in.”

Feldman noted the project also addressed a variety of other important life skills.

“This aspect of the project relied heavily on their reasoning and decision making skills,” she said. “How are they going to make the best use of their space and how are they going to compromise amongst the ideas of the group.”

Engaging the Left and Right Brain
Another benefit of the project was that it reached every type of learner.

“This project touches on addressing both the creative and practical side,” explained Feldman. “There is an opportunity for all students to shine in their groups. Some students are really good at using the TinkerCAD program, while other students are great at researching and gathering facts to present. This project addresses every type of learner.”

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The Shipley School is a private, coeducational day school for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students, located in Bryn Mawr, PA. Through our commitment to educational excellence, we develop within each student a love of learning and a desire for compassionate participation in the world.