Collaborative Innovation: Buddy Classes Construct Outdoor Shelters

Earlier this week, Mount Madonna School eleventh grade engineering class students joined their second-grade little buddies and participated in a shelter-building challenge from the Innovation Hub curriculum. The students were asked to build, test and improve shelters that could hold two people and keep them dry in a rainstorm. It was a gorgeous morning to spend outdoors in the lovely forests of the MMS campus!

The Innovation Hub or “inHub” curricula was developed by The Henry Ford organization, through its Invention Convention Worldwide program, which hosts a national Invention Convention. This curriculum covers Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) in engineering design for second grade, and will help to prepare them for Mount Madonna School’s first-ever Invention Convention planned for February 17, 2022.

“Second graders rose to the challenge of this particular engineering activity with their eleventh-grade buddies,” commented teacher Prema Gammons. “There was true innovation around structural design with the issues posed in the assignment. Together the students collaborated on location, materials and problem solving.”

“I gathered bark and leaves and made some camouflage for our shelter, and we put a lot of soft grass inside,” said second grader Naveh Ray.

“We made a great plan and everyone agreed,” commented second grader Lyra Brinton. “We made our shelter a little bigger than a table and used sticks for a frame and covered it with leaves. I have built forts in the forest before with my friends. This was kind of different. Our buddies are a bit older and more experienced – and definitely wiser!”

“Yes, agreed,” said Ray. “Our buddies were helpful and definitely have good building skills.”

“I have many past experiences doing this activity but nevertheless it was super fun, especially getting to help the second grade figure out what worked best,” shared eleventh grader Sky Weir. “My second-grade buddy Orion had a lot of helpful input, especially regarding the shelter’s size. We ended up leaning a big strong branch against a fallen tree, then leaned smaller sticks against the big main one. After we had layers of many sticks we covered it all with bark and moss to help waterproof it. We could have used a bit more time to finish and hopefully will get the chance to complete it in the near future.”

“The most important part of building our shelters was the location that we started with,” commented eleventh grader Sam Kaplan. “It is significantly easier to build a working structure when you already have the walls of a burned tree trunk or the roof of an upturned log. It wasn’t hard to engage our buddies, that age has so much natural energy and enthusiasm, all you have to do as the big buddy is direct and refocus that energy into a project.”

“Sandy is my big buddy,” shared second grader Weston Woodrow. “We built our shelter together in a burnt redwood stump. We picked a new stump after finding one with a better opening. We used sticks and leaves to make it waterproof, and blocked off half of the doorway opening to make it smaller so that not as much rain could get in.”

In addition to the explicit curriculum, participating students – younger and older – had the opportunity to collaborate and learn from one another, supporting the school’s three pillars of academic excellence, positive character development and creative self-expression.

“The buddy program includes shared science lessons, and it always brings out the best in both groups, the mentors or older kids, as well as the younger mentees,” commented teacher Lisa Catterall. “We attempt to bring groups together monthly. It started as more of a bonding program eleven years ago to build bridges across the campus and spanning the grades, preschool through high school seniors. Today, it continues to function in that capacity, for example, little buddies get excited to see their big buddies in the school plays and big buddies love to see their little buddies at Ramayana! and in their Cultural Awareness performances.

“This year,” she continued, “the tenth and eleventh grade classes are helping to deploy innovative NGSS lessons on physical science and engineering for their little buddy classes. They learn topics at a college-preparatory level, and deepen their learning by translating broad concepts into something they can teach their little buddies.”


Contact: Leigh Ann Clifton, director of marketing & communication,

Nestled among the redwoods on 375 acres, Mount Madonna School (MMS) is a diverse learning community dedicated to creative, intellectual, and ethical growth. MMS supports its students in becoming caring, self-aware, discerning and articulate individuals; and believe a fulfilling life includes personal accomplishments, meaningful relationships and service to society. The CAIS and WASC accredited program emphasizes academic excellence, creative self-expression and positive character development. Located on Summit Road between Gilroy and Watsonville. Founded in 1979.