Mrs. Cottingham's literacy class read The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind as their last novel of the year. The true story is about an inspiring African teenager who constructed a windmill from scraps to create electricity for his entire community. Throughout the entire novel, parents and students collected recyclables with the idea that the students would create something using the materials just like the main character in the book. One of the most exciting donations was solar landscape lights, which led to a huge brainstorming session with the class.
In addition to collecting recyclables, the students also grew their own greens this year as a partnership with a local restaurant. The students had to plant, water, grow, and harvest greens to be resold. They discussed problems that revolved around the growing process as well as the watering schedule, and ended up using the recyclables to design, create and test solutions to those problems.
Extending Learning Through Design Thinking
Using Mr. Zigler and the tools in the IDEApath, the students participated in some design thinking activities to try and figure out what to make out of the two liter bottles, solar lights, Pringles cans and other miscellaneous items in the pile. To simplify the process they identified the needs that plants had that they could address such as light, water, nutrients and harvesting. Many quick ideas were thrown out but the group eventually settled on trying to address two, light and water.
Looking at the two liter bottles, it seemed that it would be possible to make mini greenhouses out of the tops of them, so students started cutting them in half. After disassembling the solar lights and testing them, it seemed possible to attach the lights to the tops of these mini greenhouses to provide a little extra light after the sun went down. With a little manipulation and some tinkering, a working prototype was created after just one hour of design! The mini seedling greenhouse with a little extended light was dubbed the Thrive. In the end, four functioning Thrives were created and the steps to create them ironed out.
Trial and Error... and Trial Again
Work was a little trickier in the water department with overly delicate Styrofoam egg cartons seeming to provide the key ingredient for a water dripping system, but not quite. When it was noticed that the discarded bottoms of the two liter bottles also had little depressions, a quick shift led to a more productive track. Experiments in poking
tiny holes in the plastic bottles, making a set of six that would fit the size of the grow tray, and figuring out how to lift the invention, appropriately named the Cloud above the plants with stability. To further improve the design bits of thread were lowered through the holes to help "wick" the water down to the plants. Though this project took more experimentation and wrong turns, the students still ended up with a working prototype in under two hours!
Making Learning Meaningful
This sort of experience not only reinforces the literary themes of the book that the students read and discussed, but also the science of growing plants, the importance trying to solve real world problems and the sense of being able to make concrete contributions to the world. Taking part in this sort of hands on activity helps students with time and project management skills, teamwork and collaboration, and stretches their creative muscles. We all look forward to next year when we see how the inventions work in the long term, how they can be improved and what new ideas student might come up with! This type of learning does indeed go beyond the book report.