SMS students build playhouse for Shawnee family

Elisabeth Slay
The Shawnee News-Star
From left to right, Shawnee Middle School eighth graders Jordan McClain, Miller-DeBoer, Orlin McConnell-Abell and Aehrell Timm build a playhouse.

Several Shawnee Middle School STEM students spent two weeks recently building a playhouse, which was donated to a Shawnee family by Community Renewal.  

According to SMS STEM teacher Dr. Carrie Miller-DeBoer, before the holidays, about 29 eighth graders, with assistance from some seventh grade STEM students, designed and constructed the playhouse during a two-week "Green Architecture" course.  

"I wanted students to have the opportunity to build something more purposeful with lasting impact beyond the classroom," Miller-DeBoer said. "I took a list of house-like options that might be useful to our school or community to our principal, Joey Slate."  

The educator said Slate chose the playhouse because it would benefit other students in the community. 

In addition, she said Slate reached out to Community Renewal requesting assistance on donating the playhouse.  

"(Community Renewal's) commitment to the Shawnee community is evident and we have a longstanding and valued partnership," Miller-DeBoer said.  

During the first week of the course, students drew up the plans, learned how to frame a wall and construct the rest of the house.  

The second week, she said the students executed their plans and painted the playhouse.  

The teacher explained some of the STEM students actually built the playhouse, but all 29 students attending both in-person instruction and distance learning contributed to the project. 

"Students on virtual or hybrid schedules drew plans, estimated material needs and costs and used CAD software to model the finished product," she said. "Of the 29 students, about 15 worked on the structure itself." 

Miller-DeBoer said this project was extremely beneficial to students because it embodied what the SMS STEM program is all about. 

"Our STEM program at Shawnee Middle School is built on problem-based learning, which challenges students to create solutions to issues and scenarios that extend beyond the classroom," she said.  

The playhouse construction project was a perfect way for students to apply these skills to a real-world situation and work together to achieve a common goal, she added. 

Through this project the educator said she saw how students became more confident in themselves, contributed something different and learned from one another.  

"Shawnee families include a rich diversity of heritage and professional experience that students bring with them to our projects," Miller-DeBoer said. "For some, this was their first time using a circular saw or a power drill. Other students came with prior construction or woodworking experience; they mentored their classmates throughout the process and showed me alternative techniques." 

The teacher said this project is an example of one of the reasons she enjoys the STEM program.  

"This is one of the things I love about STEM; the roles of teacher and student become fluid because we work on a wide range of projects in a growing technological landscape," Miller-DeBoer said.  

For many students, she said, the best aspect of working on the playhouse was using power tools and actually building something.  

"The playhouse was real and tangible; standing back and seeing this solid thing that you helped build is rather empowering," Miller-DeBoer said.  

According to SMS eighth grader Evan Evan Babbie, he loved working with wood and other materials and creating something new.  

"I found it really fun. It's different than what I normally do at school," Babbie said.  

For eighth grader Maegan James, she also enjoyed working with the wood and making something for someone else.  

"I like it because I brought joy to another kid who might not have gotten the opportunity to play with something like that," James said.  

Both James and Babbie said they would be interested in working on another project such as this in the future.  

Miller-DeBoer said last semester was the first time the school offered "Green Architecture" and she plans on doing other projects with students going forward.  

"I am excited to see what we do next. Having been through the process once, I plan to transfer more responsibility to the students in choosing and planning our projects," Miller-DeBoer said. "I’ve heard a few suggestions from both students and staff and am certainly open to more."  

Going forward, Miller-DeBoer said the next step for the SMS STEM program, which is a member of the OK Career Tech system, is to form an advisory committee.  

"This committee invites local business leaders and community members to help shape our program," Miller-DeBoer said. "This ensures our students know what career opportunities exist here in Shawnee and allows us to continually refresh our STEM classes so they experience the cutting-edge technologies, skills and ideas relevant to their futures." 

The educator said she looks forward to the next building project and partnering with the Shawnee STEM community.  

"Together we can give our students a foundation and network to support their growth as citizens, entrepreneurs and leaders in our future workforce," Miller-DeBoer said.