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Alabama School District Brings a Global Focus to its STEAM Programs

Talladega County Schools has set a strong example for the rest of Alabama to follow in its forward-thinking approach to technology integration. One of the first to roll out a one-to-one digital learning environment, the District boasts a strong STEAM (STEM + Arts) program culminating in an annual Innovation Showcase –  an event that has grown in scope and popularity with each passing year.

“As it grew and progressed, it became a competition within the District and evolved to include a strong project-based learning component,” explained Craig Bates, Technology Coordinator for the District. 

While researching online for additional STEAM resources and curriculum, Craig came across Level Up Village (LUV) and that led to him introduce LUV programs in three schools this year.

“I read the course descriptions and immediately realized the strong connection to science standards, STEAM themes, and project-based learning. When you add in the global partnering, Level Up Village becomes an indispensable partner in giving our students this experience,” said Craig.

Applying 3D Printing to Energy Access

Students at Lincoln Elementary and B. B. Comer High School focused on energy access in developing countries in collaboration with their partner students in Nablus and Nicaragua through Level Up Village’s Global Inventors course. The challenge was to design and test a portable lighting source that would provide a consistent course of electricity.

“Level Up Village has allowed our students to branch outside the walls of Lincoln Elementary School into a global setting where they are solving real world problems,” said Shannon Hill, Instructional Partner at Lincoln Elementary. “Through the use of one to one video message exchanges with their assigned global partner, our students learned about different cultures, causing them to connect both physically and emotionally to this project. It amazes me to see 3rd grade students rise up to the challenge by designing fully functional solar powered flashlights through digital software and 3D printing.”

As students prepared for the Innovation Showcase, they had to dig deeper and understand the global issue of energy access.

“The engineering design cycle made the students think outside the box and improve on their projects,” said Amanda Barney, Teacher at Lincoln Elementary. “The most valuable learning experience was the connection they made with their global partner through videos and collaborating with them through files with the Level Up Village platform.”

Anna Jones, Teacher at B.B. Comer High School felt that the Global Inventors course provided authenticity to the students learning.

“Students can read about energy. Students can even participate in inquiry-designed learning experiences. However, neither reading nor the hands-on experience provides the partnership with students in other countries who have a need for these resources, ” said Anna.

The student’s level of engagement increased once they received their first message from their global partners.

“Our students were very excited to partner with students outside the walls of the school. We saw an influx of searches and library interest in the countries of their partnership. The expansion of collaborative work beyond the school was eye-opening. The partnership gave their learning and work purpose,” said Anna.

Developing Prototypes to Improve Water Quality

Meanwhile, at Fayetteville, students and their global partners looked at global and local water quality and how to create an affordable, yet effective, water filtering mechanism using CAD and 3D printing in LUV’s Global Water Crisis course.

“Not having clean water to drink was not something many had ever thought about,” said Fayetville Teacher Amanda Spurling.

“After listening to the videos from their partners and doing research on our own, it was humbling to think just how wasteful we really are. Students began to take notice.  We talked about how adding bricks to our toilet tanks reduced water usage, and many students told their parents who did this at home.  One student noticed a leaky faucet outside and reported it to the office for repairs,” she added.

Fayetville students worked with global partner students to develop potential solutions to the global water crisis using TinkerCAD to develop prototypes. First, they practiced making key chains, which inspired many of them to go home and tinker on their designs even more on their own.

“Then they were asked to design a product that would help carry, hold, or purify water.  This was a challenge at first,” said Amanda.  “It was interesting to see students helping students with their ideas as well as with the TinkerCAD program itself.”

Amanda challenged students to problem solve on their own throughout the course.

“To make the filters work, we just gave the students the supplies.  We let them work through and experiment. Some got frustrated, but they were encouraged by their peers.   They screamed, ‘It’s working! It’s working!’ when they began to figure it out,” she said.

With the 3D printer right in her classroom, students had many opportunities to observe the progress of their prints. They also learned important lessons about the need to communicate effectively with their global partners.

“I didn’t realize how much our communication skills would be challenged in this project.  Students had to record videos to send to their partners.  This took much longer than anticipated since students had to improve their videos before sending.  Such things as eye contact and clear speech were encouraged.  Some felt nervous since they couldn’t plan every word. I plan to work on skills such as this more in my classroom next year,” said Amanda.

Showcasing STEAM Projects with a Global Twist

Energized by their Level Up Village experience, students created elaborate projects to demonstrate what they had learned for the Innovation Showcase. Two girls even dressed up in traditional clothing to represent each of the countries they collaborated with (Nicaragua and Ghana) while explaining the prototypes they developed. Their booth was whirlwind of activity.

“We had the 3D printer going on the left while the TV on the right explained more about their presentation and showed pictures,” said Amanda. “Students also gave out bottles of water with a LUV label they had designed and printed and explained the charts they had made showing their water usage data as compared to that of their partners in Uganda and Nicaragua. Using their Chromebooks, the girls shared their TinkerCAD projects and LUV website videos and collaboration documents.”

Next year, Craig plans to expand its Level Up Village offerings across seven different Talladega County Schools and is giving teachers the choice of several LUV courses including Global Inventors, Global Programming, Global Web Designers and Global Scientists.