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HomeLink students use engineering skills to design and build newsprint towers

Parent partnership program offers a variety of classes for students in kindergarten through eighth-grade, at new location on the campus of Lake Stevens High School

Amanda Smitkin and students test their towers

Amanda Smitkin, left, leads HomeLink students through testing of their newsprint towers during a recent Maker Lab class. In this engineering design challenge, students had to design and construct towers using limited materials. The towers had to withstand blowing and an electric fan.

Three sheets of newspaper, one pair of scissors, 12 inches of tape and just 20 minutes to design, build and test a newsprint tower. This is the challenge that students in Amanda Smitkin’s Makers Lab at HomeLink were faced with. The class, made up of students in fourth- through eighth-grade, was broken into teams of two to complete this engineering design challenge.

After 20 minutes, students tested the stability of their designs by first blowing out a full breath to simulate a hurricane hitting the tower. Then, they used an electric fan three feet from the tower. Students were encouraged to redesign and revise their towers based on the results of their testing. Successful towers did not topple over.

Khenan Spencer showing his model

Khenan Spencer, a HomeLink eighth-grader, created a model of China’s Shanghai Tower and used a 3D printer to produce the replica.

The Makers Lab focuses on engineering using Science, Technology, Engineering, Math and English Language Art concepts. Each week students have a different challenge that requires them to use creativity, critical thinking, and collaboration to solve a real world or imaginary problem. Students present their work in a variety of formats, including writing, art and video.

“This task mirrors the challenges that engineers are given in the real world,” said Smitkin, who has taught at HomeLink for 15 years. “Through trial and error, students are encouraged to add to and modify their designs to make them better.”

In addition to Makers Lab, Smitkin teaches The History of Indigenous People, Crazy Chemistry, Tinker Time, A Changing America, K-8 Adventurers and Mission to the Moon: Artemis Roads Challenge.

Students in the Mission to the Moon class recently completed a NASA Challenge where they built robot rovers and navigated them through terrain that mimicked the moon’s surface. They also welcomed guest speaker Sarah Harden, a liaison engineer with Boeing, who spoke to students about her work.

HomeLink is a parent partnership, public school option for students in kindergarten through eighth-grade. Located on the campus of Lake Stevens High School (LSHS), HomeLink serves families dedicated to taking an active role in the education of their children.

The HomeLink program has a dedicated space at LSHS for classes, meals and family gathering. Families also have reserved parking.
Students may attend for as little as two courses per week, while others are enrolled as full-time public school students. Students who wish to join HomeLink must have 90 days of documented, successful homeschooling in the last two years to be eligible. HomeLink operates under the Alternative Learning Experience rules and guidelines through the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. This includes Written Student Learning Plans for all students, and monthly progress reports.

Vicky Francois discussing engineering designs with students

Vicky Francois, leader of HomeLink, discusses engineering design options with students. Francois has been leading HomeLink since August and also oversees the district’s Alternative Learning Experiences.

Every class is taught by a certified teacher. Classes are multi-age, and students work at their ability level. Classes are offered Tuesdays through Fridays. Courses change each school year, but can include offerings such as Art & Celebrations Around the World, Crazy Chemistry, Agricultural Science, Persuasive Writing Skills & Debate, and Fiber Arts.

HomeLink is led by Vicky Francois who joined Lake Stevens School District last fall. Her passion is to help students, families and her staff see their own brilliance. In addition to leading HomeLink, she manages the district’s Alternative Learning Experiences. Francois is working to continually build dynamic family engagement at HomeLink, and has partnered with a strong Parent Advisory Committee (PAC) to ensure that students and families have what they need to be successful.

“HomeLink is an incredible place for students to learn, collaborate, grow and thrive,” said Francois. “We are settling into our new space and have welcomed two talented teachers to our team this year. I encourage anyone who is interested in our program to reach out, and come visit. This is a great place to be.”

To learn more about HomeLink, visit the HomeLink website.