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Creating Global Connections with STEAM Learning

by Guest Blogger
Student fostering global connections with her partner

The August issue of TCEA’s quarterly magazine TechEdge will be out very soon. The theme of the August issue is global connections. In each story, educators from around the country share how breaking down classroom walls and fostering global awareness and empathy are transforming their students. We wanted to include a sneak peak of one article from the very talented Tina Coffey on her work with the organization Level Up Village. This article is abridged, and the full version will appear in the magazine. TechEdge is sent to all TCEA members. If you are not a member, it is not too late to join here. You’ll receive the next issue in the mail and have access to a digital archive of past issues. 

Creating Global Citizens with STEAM Learning

One Friday morning in March, I walked into a fifth grade classroom to a buzz of activity. Small groups of students were gathered around an iPad practicing beginning Spanish words. Others were working feverishly with students from the local high school to customize and practice Spanish phrases. One student was showing the teacher a video he had recently received from his Nicaraguan teammate. Throughout the room, the excited chatter of students filled the air.

I was delighted to see so much focused activity. This group was a completely different Global Studies class than the one I had seen two months before. But what had caused this transformation?

STEAM and Global Citizenship Unite

A former colleague introduced me to a company that was able to provide our district a great solution. Level Up Village offers global STEAM classes for grades K-9. Their courses include everything from Global Web Designers to Global Storybook Engineers. For each course, classrooms in the United States are partnered with classrooms in developing countries. Together they complete a STEAM project, while also getting to know about a different country in a very personal way. Level Up Village takes care of all the logistics, including pairing students with individual global partners, providing fully developed curriculum and teacher training, and facilitating global communication and collaboration via a safe and secure portal.

Fostering global connections through Tinkercad project

Students working in TinkerCad as Global Inventors (Credit: Tina Coffey)

After conferring with our central office staff, our district began piloting a Level Up Village Course called Global Inventors, which focuses on 3D printing. Up until this point, Global Studies was usually taught in fifth grade along with writing, and was mainly focused on textbooks and internet research. We planned on capitalizing on the Global Inventors course’s cross-curricular components to integrate lessons that met science and math standards alongside Global Studies.

We approached a teacher at Oak Grove Elementary who was enthusiastic about piloting the eight-week program. All students in fifth grade at Oak Grove were able to participate, and each one was paired with a child from Argentina, Nicaragua, or Honduras.

Video Powering Global Connections

As part of the course, each student sent video messages back and forth to his or her partner. Often the video topics were prompted by a few suggested questions, but students were free to come up with their own as well. This exchange of videos soon fostered a friendship across countries that made the project real and meaningful.

Electricity and Nonrenewable and Renewable Resources

Level Up Village provided a series of videos that challenged students to look beyond simple similarities and differences and delve into complex problems. One issue they looked at centered on electricity production, usage, and accessibility. The students learned surprising facts, such as that Nicaragua has a lot of untapped potential for geothermal energy production thanks to its nearby volcanoes. They also learned that not everyone has easy and cheap access to electricity. This knowledge helped set the framework for the purpose behind the 3D design project.

Let There Be Light

To create their global inventions, students used a computer-aided design (CAD) software called Tinkercad to design a casing for a solar flashlight, which was then printed on the 3D printer. Solar flashlights were novel gadgets for our students, but for their partners in developing countries, these flashlights could be used when electricity was not available.

Student wiring flashlight while building global connections

Student wiring solar flashlight (Credit: Tina Coffey)

Students had to call on their understanding of circuits, measurement, and 3D calculation to design the flashlights. They had to make sure the case they designed could both contain the required electrical components and fit on the class 3D printer. Using Tinkercad was by far the hardest part of the course for many of these students. However, knowing they had a partner that was counting on them helped them persevere.

One student wrote, “… it took time and effort to finally finish it. It was hard to make all the measurements perfect so all the components would fit. I hope it helps my partner to study at night and during power-outs.”

Creating Global Citizens

Throughout the Global Inventors course, the students’ growth as global citizens was evident. They could not only name basic facts about the countries they studied, but understood so much more. The project cultivated greater empathy, understanding, and curiosity. The students’ written reflections on their class blogs reflected their growth as citizens of the modern world.

One student wrote, “This project was very different from what I’m used to. It was nice to learn about and send messages to people from across the world. I’ve learned that a 3D printer isn’t just to make cool looking things. Those things can change someone’s life.”

Here’s a video sharing Tina’s story:

Making a Difference with LUV from elemitrt on Vimeo.

If you are interested in trying the Global Inventors course in your school, the In School Price is $55 per student. However, some district-wide variations apply. Level Up Village also says that a number of schools have successfully applied for grants from community organizations to run their courses.

The writer of this guest blog, Tina Coffey, is the Instructional Technology Resource Teacher at Oak Grove Elementary School in Roanoke, Virginia. She is also the Level Up Village US Teacher of the Year for 2017. Connect with her on Twitter @elemitrt.


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