The focus of much of the STEM work I do with 8th graders revolves around solving world problems by designing solutions. I sincerely feel tweens and high-schoolers are an unused resource in our American society. Given the tools and training, the kids can come up with brilliant ideas to make the world a better place.
I have a lesson called World Problems that helps kids think outside of the classroom. I introduce the idea that scientists, engineers, and inventors work to make the world a better place. I encourage the students to think of an invention or discovery that did not help humans. They inevitably say the Atom Bomb. This leads to a lively discussion centered around the social sciences. Was the bomb good or bad for the Japanese? the Americans? Humans in general? I end the discussion with a homework assignment to discuss their ideas with their parents.
Inherent in the idea that scientists, inventors, and engineers are working to make the world a better place, is the idea that the world is filled with problems. I point to my world map and ask them to think of a problem that is true in every country in the world. It is true in Africa, Europe, Brazil, and USA. I give each table a pack of post it notes and ask them to write one world problem on the post it. I have a large chalk board where they post the problems. Then I ask for one volunteer from each group to come up and collect commonalities. The post-its have included problems like disease, pollution, no clean water, war, poverty, and the energy crisis. I always have some great thinkers in class with ideas including racism, hate, lack of freedom, and political injustices.
The collection of the post it leads to great discussion about where a problem occurs. Does homelessness go with poverty or drug abuse? After we have agreed on the categorization of the problem, each table makes an electronic poster with the problem and I post it in the classroom.
Every time I offer a design choice, I ask the kids to go to the posters and see if they can use what they learned in class to design a mechanism to solve a world problem. I have had some brilliant designs. A couple of boys decided not to use AutoCad and instead used Sketch up to design a shower for a person in a wheel chair. I had groups of kids using VEX robotics design belt driven ramps to deliver food and water to the poor. I’ve had lots of trucks designed to move over sand in the desert to deliver fresh water. Kids have designed wind turbines and water turbines, testing them outside and at the sink.
Looking at World Problems has ignited curiosity and innovation. Students learn how they can make a positive impact on the world with their hard work and their intelligence.