Fifth graders are working to try to make a dent to solve global water issues. This semester, they have taken on several exciting water-related Design Thinking challenges – projects of their choosing. Working through the D.E.E.P. (Discover, Empathize, Experiment and Produce) process, they interviewed users, detected problems, and created prototypes designed to help solve the issues. By collaborating grade-wide, students learned to appreciate many different perspectives.

Weaving water issues through all subjects, students created their big picture. In World Geography, they learned about the water problems facing the natives of Zambia and water wars in the Southeastern United States. In Science, acid rain, pollution, hydroelectricity, and the water cycle were the hot topics. In Literature, students read and reviewed articles about the issue, and in Math, they explored their personal use of water through collecting data. All this, in just the first phase of the student-driven challenge to present real-world solutions to real-life issues.

In the Empathy phase, students were asked to carry a full gallon of water with them throughout the day to all of their classes and over to the Glenn Campus to hike the trail behind the football field. This activity helped them gain a better understanding of what less fortunate people around the world must do to collect and keep clean water.

As students sorted through topics of interest to them, such as: accessing drinking water in impoverished countries, acid rain, water scarcity, wetlands, typhoons, ocean pollution, and contamination of rivers, among others, they started to discover methods and techniques that might make a difference. They began to prototype.

Head of Grade 5, Stephanie Immel says of this process, “I have students prototyping an airport designated for disaster relief in remote areas, a backpack that students in developing countries can use to filter and carry water with their school supplies, and creating fundraisers and clubs to bring awareness to the issues behind the United States water crisis and the issues that surround the destruction of our wetlands.”

Surprising himself, one student commented, “This is NOTHING like I had in mind to solve their problem…it’s even better!”

Mrs. Immel continues, “These are fifth graders diving into issues that affect their communities and neighbors around the world. They are looking at it from an engineering and design angle, withholding judgment all along the way. This is genuine, real-world education!”

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