By: Meg Money, 4th Grade Teacher, & Dr. Laura Spencer, Exec Director of Innovation & Design
A modified version of this blog post, which includes input from the Industry Expert mentioned here, was published by the U.S. Green Building Council on their website.
In Del Mar, our mission to “ignite genius and empower students to advance the world” isn’t just a slogan on the wall. It’s how our students learn and how they tied together science, social studies and the problem of homelessness together in one amazing unit
We use the Design Thinking methodology to help students solve problems that have the potential for real societal impact while they prototype solutions integrating CA Common Core State Standards: skills that matter most, and a deep sense of empathy for others. Our students research, interview, connect with industry experts, ideate, and prototype solutions to a range of issues from how to make newcomers feel welcome at school to coastal erosion and lagoon conservancy.
One example is from Meg Money’s fourth graders at Sycamore Ridge who got interested in a Social Studies unit on California’s natural resources. Students were concerned about the human impact of California running out of fossil fuels. How would Californians continue to thrive? They were determined to find solution and along the way, our students discovered that helping a homeless person wasn’t as easy as just giving them a phone.
Design Thinking: Students use empathy to define the problem
It was apparent to Meg that the students’ concern for the depletion of nonrenewable energy needed to be addressed. Students interviewed each other about how much power they used, and if there were any alternatives to power their devices with renewable energy sources. We knew they understood the problem when we saw needs statements like: “Willam needs a renewably powered computer in order to research on Google while conserving energy and using California’s natural resources wisely.”
Research- Ideate- Prototype
Because neither Meg nor the students had any background in renewable energy, Google became the “go to” research source. Students developed flow charts and questions to help with the research, and to narrow down their ideas. With that research, students ideated and began prototyping solutions centering on renewable energy sources like water, wind, sun, and kinetic (human) energy.
The students presented their prototypes in class presentations. We taught them to give feedback using the TAG strategy: Tell something you liked, Ask a question and Give a suggestion. This feedback was useful, but Meg noticed that feedback would be much more meaningful coming from an expert in the energy arena. This is where Laura came in with a web tool called Nepris, which could connect the students with experts to bridge all their learning pieces together.
Nepris provides an Industry Expert to provide feedback and motivation
Nepris found us a mechanical engineer from Lebanon, Patrick Kattan, who explained all the scientific answers the students needed for their questions, the problems, and the prototypes they had created. His feedback, according to a student, “expanded our thinking because he answered the WHY instead of just giving us facts.”
After the experience, students redesigned their prototypes to incorporate Patrick’s feedback. What we learned was that every group overlooked one critical element in making renewable energy work - the BATTERY! They didn’t get discouraged, though, because as one student said, Patrick motivated him because “he said things that made me want to go forward more.” Another student added, “He told us we had good ideas and that one day we might be successful in bringing our ideas to life.” More ideating, and new prototypes were developed.
The impact of this unit was felt well beyond the classroom. A mom sent this email message after the project: “You know innovative and meaningful projects are happening at school when your child tells you to put down what you are doing so you can ‘truly focus’ and learn more about how the battery of his cardboard cell phone he co-created with a classmate could be powered by solar energy.”
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