Christina Smith, Quail Run
What were you doing in fourth grade? Probably not collaborating with a classroom of students in Mexico to design solar-powered flashlights, but that is what Christina Smith’s fourth-grade class at Quail Run Elementary did this year.
Smith received an Innovative Teaching Grant from the Lawrence Schools Foundation and enrolled her students in an eight-week Global Inventors course through Level Up Village, a program that facilitates global STEAM collaboration between students from around the world.
Smith’s students teamed up with a class in Mexico and through the eight-week session, students spent two-four hours per week completing their coursework, planning, collaborating and working with computer-aided design software.
The students communicated with their counterparts in Mexico during the process.
“Students learned about a global issue that many people in other countries experience: unreliable access to electricity,” Smith said. “After exploring the issue, students learned how to use the engineering design cycle to develop a solution to this problem.”
After learning about software and 3D printing, the students designed and created their own solar-powered flashlights, which will be created on a 3D printer. The grant paid for the printer, as well as the tuition for the class. Smith’s students will print 28 flashlights.
“Students have learned about their partners and their partner’s country, which have helped to build global competency and empathy,” Smith said.
Smith said her students have gained a great world view through the project.
“It was amazing to see the cross-cultural connections being made as students got to know their partners,” Smith said. “I think most students thought they wouldn’t see many commonalities with their partners, but the more they got to know one another, the more they realized they had in common.”
“The project also encouraged students to look past their immediate environment at some of the real-world issues that are going on around them,” she added. “For example, we had originally been partnered with a school in Zimbabwe, but when all of the political unrest took place last November, our partners were unable to finish the course. That was an eye-opening experience for many as we tried to imagine what it must be like to be in their shoes. It also helped students see that even though they are kids, they can still problem solve and make a difference.”