In last week’s wrap-up we saw a glimpse of our team benefiting from a fresh take on our own ideas; this week, another teacher’s glance at an ongoing problem and their subsequent solution showed how important it is to tune projects from multiple perspectives. The STEM team was stuck – we had an idea about how to integrate fundamental properties of matter, electrochemistry, and energy transformations with exponential growth and decay. Students would literally heat up things like butter or cheese and then cool them down, generating mathematical curves and learning about the underlying chemistry. Hands on, “real-life,” and, most likely, fun.
But it was pointless. We couldn’t think of a good reason any chemist (or even flavorist) might need to do this. Where does this live outside of school?, we kept asking. What community problem does it solve? The closest we got was a PSA or publication about where food should be kept in the house. Weak.
We are lucky that a few teachers agreed to collab with us this semester and it took Dana Schlosser about a two and a half second glace at the list of topics to say “solar charger.” Start with an introduction on sustainable power and focus in on solar power. Who hasn’t had a dead phone? Wouldn’t it be nice to charge outside? Create a battery, measure the lifespan and voltage, wire it to a solar panel, and challenge students to make it strong enough to charge their cell phone. Minimizing the footprint, adding portability, and finding a way to increase the current extend the project for students ready for a challenge. It is exponentially better than what we had.
What is troubling is that the chance this happens in a typical school is exponentially less. Collaboration and brainstorming aren’t just mantras to toss at our students, but are integral to the creating and tuning of exciting projects. All the research we’ve done and schools we’ve visited point to teacher time as a top priority. It’s also the thing teachers feel like there’s never enough of. Plan, teach, grade, call – there’s more than enough to fill the day. We could all use a moment to step outside and smell the roses. And charge our phone.