By Amanda Spurling, 3rd Grade Teacher, Fayetteville School in Talladega County Schools, Alabama
Education has seen major shifts in the past decade. Rather than providing students all the information they need to learn, teachers now take on more of a facilitator role, guiding students to think and locate information they need for themselves. Moreover, the careers that students are being prepared to enter are changing. As educators, we are challenged to prepare students for careers in a global economy by providing engaging and authentic lessons that tap into important 21st Century skills.
One way my school district is tackling this challenge is by partnering with Level Up Village (LUV). Level Up Village allows students to connect with others around the world while meeting curriculum standards and providing opportunities to develop students’ personal skills. My students participated in LUV’s Global Water Crisis course. Before beginning, we were not really aware of the problems that others go through every day just to get clean water to live. Through video exchanges, students collaborated with students from Uganda and Nicaragua. They created 3D designs using Tinkercad and collaborated on ideas on how to address the water crisis. Over the course of many weeks, they grew tremendously in the areas of communication, critical thinking and concern for others.
To help students become college and career ready, teachers provide opportunities for students to develop communication skills so they can learn how to verbalize their ideas and opinions, as well as learn what questions to ask to enhance their understanding of a problem. I discovered through the Level Up Village work that my students struggled with communication. They had no problems talking! However, there is a difference in talking to someone and speaking and responding to their questions and ideas.
This project provided students an authentic audience with which to communicate and plenty of targeted practice. They recorded videos that were sent to students overseas as well as received videos from their partners. They were motivated to improve their communication skills as they listened to their partners and also reviewed their own work. My students and I realized by watching their videos that we also needed to work on body language and eye contact. Over time, they began to have more self-confidence as they made eye contact with their listeners and spoke with more clarity.
Part of our project included designing a water filtration system or water carrying device using CAD software and a 3D printer. This required critical thinking on the part of my students. They took some time discussing their ideas with a partner in our class, but when it came time to put their ideas on the computer by designing with the software, they didn’t know where to start. I was proud of how they encouraged one another and shared tips and tricks as they developed the projects. We took time to review each other’s projects, asking questions and identifying issues their device may have. This required students to critically evaluate the designs.
Sometimes this was frustrating for them, and as a teacher I had to allow them to find a solution instead of telling them what to do. But to make my students college and career ready, I want them to be able to evaluate problems and find solutions; I want them to be critical thinkers.
Concern for Others
Not only do I want my students to be college and career ready, I also want them to be thoughtful and caring citizens. Through our Level Up Village work, I found my students developed a level of concern for others and our world. It was very eye-opening from the beginning when we were asked to rank our water problems. We were a little embarrassed to send our results stating that our problem was wasting water. We then looked up ways to conserve water, prompting many of them to make changes at home to save water. We also a reported leaky outdoor faucet on campus. Prior to this project, my students did not have any awareness of this issue. Now they can begin to see beyond our community and think of ways to make a difference.
Sharing with the Community
Following the course, my students prepared projects to share what they had learned for my school District’s Innovation Showcase. Two girls, Ella Ruth P. and Hannah Grace N. even dressed the part, donning clothing representative of the countries they were paired with. Their engaging presentation included a 3D printer whirring away behind them, videos playing to explain their project, and charts showing their water usage data as compared to their global partners. Using their Chromebooks, the girls shared their TinkerCAD projects and examples of their collaboration. The students’ enthusiastic participation in the Showcase both at this booth and others provided a wonderful culmination to the course.
My global classroom experience has made an impact on the way I think about my curriculum and inspired me to reflect more deeply on my goals as a teacher in the areas of communication, critical thinking and concern for others. Both my students and I were energized by this authentic STEM learning experience, made even more relevant by the global connection to students in Nicaragua and Uganda. Even though my students are only in 3rd grade, the lessons that they learned will last a lifetime.