Failing forward: how QMS teacher Jacqueline Cross empowers students to be positive contributors to society

Step into the technology classroom at Queensbury Middle School and you will be welcomed by the cheery disposition and positive attitude of STEM teacher Jacqueline Cross. Scattered throughout different stations of her classroom are works-in-progress student projects, encouraging posters distinguishing the design process, and successful student work placarded right alongside failed attempts, to “show the process of failing forward,” says Cross. 

This is what her 10-week class that all middle school students attend is all about. “I want students to be empowered, to not be afraid of failing, and to build confidence throughout the engineering process,” she said.

Her passion and excitement for seeing a “click” of understanding in her students is clear. “I want them to see that anyone can do STEM! I always share that topics that they are struggling with, I struggled with too when I was learning. Now I can teach in a way that they can understand. Once it ‘clicks’ for them, too, it is so rewarding!”

Cross uses Project Lead the Way (PLTW) curriculum as a support for her hands-on activities. PLTW creates an engaging, hands-on classroom environment and empowers students to develop in-demand knowledge and skills they need to thrive. 

What do the students think about her class? Students immediately sung praises of Mrs. Cross. “This class is productive and exciting,” said Levi Comstock. “Yeah, it teaches you new things and how to build,” chimed in Natalie Mastroianni.  “And it lets you be creative and it’s really fun!” finished Ashlynn Russell.

One of the smaller projects the students were working on helps practice using precise measurements and following specific directions to build a ‘skimmer’, a folded paper lightweight item that is propelled by a rubber band and ‘skims’ across the floor from a wooden starting block. Each student had three opportunities to launch their skimmer, make some minor adjustments to the build, and then launch again to see who can get theirs to propel the farthest.

Mrs. Cross helps a student prepare his ‘skimmer’

“This classroom is a place for them to be able to go back and fix their mistakes, to try again, and to learn that it is not the end of the world if they make a mistake. This is a safe space to fail and I try to be a coach in my instruction,” encouraged Cross.

Cross also has two 3D printers at her disposal, and students love creating their own nametags and other designs using the software. “One student even got super creative and came up with their own design of a lacrosse stick holder and implemented a successful final rendering!” said Cross. 

Mrs. Cross shows how a 3D printer works to make her nametag

Her classes dip into a variety of STEM courses, from Design & Modeling, to the Engineering process, VEX robotics, and coding. “I want them to see how engineering is really just a team of people who work together to solve problems, and that they don’t have to be an adult to do this–having teamwork and being able to contribute starts now!”

Students work to build their skimmers
A Student of Mrs. Cross preps his skimmer for launching
A student prepares his launch station