By: Linda Smith—
Yorktown, IN—This year has brought new adventures for Yorktown Middle School (YMS). The school has added a new STEM Lab class to allow our students to grow their problem-solving skills and teach them about real-world problems. Using the integrated STEM Design Thinking Model, YMS STEM students were introduced to the issue of pollution and air quality in New Delhi, India.
Yorktown students read and watched videos about children that spend their lives working in landfills in New Delhi, collecting recyclable materials to sell to make money for their families. Students about their age live and work in landfills, where they are many times more likely to suffer from respiratory diseases. Our Yorktown students were challenged to create a device that could be used by the children in India to filter out the polluted air. They had to use only materials that could be found in a dump, and their prototype had to stand the test of its ability to keep dust and debris out and let enough air through. Once the students had researched the problem, shared their ideas, developed, and tested their prototype, they presented their product to the class. And that is where the adults thought the project would end.
But Yorktown’s students had something to say about that ending. Part of the design process is establishing empathy for the end-user of your design. The students were angry that kids just their age lived and worked in such horrible conditions. They asked their STEM teacher, Mrs. Kristen Alcorn, if they could send their designs to India or if they could contact the Indian Embassy. Mrs. Alcorn spent time talking with the students about why sending the masks might be impractical, but she did reach out to the embassy. At the same time, she reached out to a teacher at the Modern School in New Delhi to see if she might like to collaborate with her students. Both teachers agreed, and Mrs. Alcorn’s students wrote letters to students in New Delhi about their concern and willingness to collaborate on the air quality issues in their country. The letters were well received by the school in India.
The teachers and students at Modern School in India not only wrote back letters to the STEM class but also began a school-wide unit to create air filters in honor of the YMS STEM students. In the words of the teachers in India, “Earth is our only planet on which life exists, and it is our responsibility to undo what has been done by the humankind.” Teaching our students using an integrated STEM model has allowed them to have a voice in their learning and in what matters to them. YMS students were engaged, empathetic, problem-solvers. This air quality unit has begun a chain-reaction of events world-wide. Yorktown students are inspiring other kids around the world to care for our planet. They are excited to see that their efforts have made them global leaders.
Linda Smith is Media/STEM/Technology Specialist and Apple Education Trainer at Yorktown Community Schools.