‘Transitopia Studio’ Has Collins Middle School Students Thinking About Future Transit Systems

Posted on: December 27, 2023
Collins Middle School Transitopia Studio

Salem middle schools engaging students in ‘studio’ learning

SALEM (Dec. 27, 2023) – Seeing what roadways, railways other modes of transit might look like 20-40 years from now depends on many variables and would take some serious imagination.

But four classrooms of 84 students at the Collins Middle School had their visions on display Wednesday Dec. 20 when the cafeteria at Collins morphed into ‘Transitopia’: a collection of sketches, 3-dimensional prototypes and storyboards of how transit systems might appear by mid-century.

“The purpose of the partnership with NuVu and the work of the pilot is to co-design, test and scale types of learning that engage and expand the experiences of all middle school students,” said Chelsea Banks, Dean of Innovation at Salem Public Schools.

Transitopia is the culmination of a 10-week project within the Salem Public Schools Middle School pilot program. The pilot, launched last year, is seeking ways to reimagine middle school to be more engaging and to help middle school students feel connected, empowered and unbounded in learning. The pilot has partnered with the NuVu Innovation School in Cambridge, at which students work in ‘studio’: interdisciplinary, project-based, hands-on learning experiences to elicit creative thinking and collaboration to solve problems. 

As an example of this scale, all middle schoolers are now experiencing studio. On the half-day on Wednesday, Dec. 13, educators at Collins and Saltonstall had the chance to learn about leading studios with students by doing a studio exercise themselves. This type of learning reinforces district goals of cultivating independent learners.

On Friday, Dec. 22, all students in sixth, seventh, and eighth grade at Collins and Saltonstall K-8 School had the opportunity to experience their first studio project by designing and constructing roller coasters for marbles. Students in the pilot, who tested and completed this studio earlier this year, supported other homerooms throughout Collins in their first studio-based learning experience.

“We are excited that students outside the pilot will have the opportunity to take on more robust projects such as Transitopia moving forward,” said Ms. Banks.

With ‘Transitopia,’ pilot students in groups of 2-4 were tasked with researching and understanding transit systems and how renewable energy could play a role in future systems. In 1-2 class periods each week for 10 weeks, students discussed, sketched and brainstormed how people would travel, commute to work and simply get from point A to point B in the future.

Along the way, students received feedback from educators and one another resulting in steady edits, revisions and tweaks. 

“When we launched the pilot, one of the things we noticed was students struggling with the desire to be in school just to get the right answer,” said Ms. Banks. “Studio is a way of helping students learn differently. They work in teams. They learn to build with their classmates. It is creativity and collaboration. We’re seeing if it will work in our middle school framework.”

The results of the last 10 weeks, which were a combination of creative and innovative, fun and even personal, could very well produce a wave of civil engineers from Salem. On Wednesday night, over 30 pilot students came back to school to showcase their ideas and prototypes for their families and friends, with over 75 people in total in attendance.

Seventh graders Analia Diaz and Michaela Medina created a prototype for a network of chutes and slides around the city of Salem, by way of blanket (in the winter) or by water (in warmer months). “I got the idea from Mario Bros.,” noted Ms. Diaz, who said the water used would come from the ocean and return to the ocean. She also noted the grade of the chutes and slides would be adjustable to control speed.

“We would still have cars and planes and traditional transportation, but we see it getting more popular which would mean less cars,” added Ms. Medina.

Eighth graders Liana Galvan, Luis Vizcaino and Amayah Febles created a prototype for a bullet train that travels under water by electromagnetic force – ideal for travel between regions separated by water. Ms. Galvan got the idea from her parents, who immigrated from the Philippines.

“There are a lot of islands,” said Ms. Galvan, noting more than 7,000 islands make up the Philippines. “I was researching bullet trains in Japan and I felt we could use one for places separated by islands.”

Solar energy was a common theme within the unit. Seventh graders Iggy Herrera who, alongside Gia Rodriguez and Jemely Soto, described their solar energy-powered ‘magic school bus’ as “better than an Uber because it comes within two minutes,” she said. 

Anthony Guzman and King Peete, both seventh graders, created an airplane that flies via solar panels placed on each wing and the rear of the plane. “It’s for short and long flights,” Mr. Guzman said. “The two panels on the back of the plane are for speed. We want it to be able to reach 500 miles per hour.”

Mr. Guzman also noted taking an interest in technology and can see himself taking further coursework as he progresses in school. “I like it because you can work on your own and it’s very hands-on,” he said. 

About Salem Public Schools

Salem Public Schools is an urban public school district in Salem, Massachusetts. Salem is a small, diverse city with a proud maritime and immigrant history. Our leaders and our teachers are all passionate about education and understand the urgency of improving student achievement with equity and social-emotional needs as the lens we view all of our work through. We respect and value the racial, cultural, and linguistic diversity of our students and their families, and have a strong commitment to the Salem community. Salem Public Schools staff serve all of our students, regardless of ability or language. Salem Public Schools enrolls approximately 4,000 students across its eleven schools.