Fifth Graders Fabricate Solutions for the Mondaigawa City Council

Dana Melvin (elementary school teacher) writes on the the grade 5 classes’ month-long design fair which took place from April 17 to May 12. 

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In order to fuse the grade 5 curriculum with ASIJ’s Strategic Objectives and the Next Generation Science Standards, (particularly the engineering thread), the fifth-grade students participated in a  design project this year instead of a traditional science fair. In a recent MindShift article, Christa Flores reminds us, “Students learn more, love science more, and are more engaged in science content and the scientific process when designing solutions to real problems.”

With this in mind, teachers Suzanna Voigt, Sandy Novo, Vera Adams, Joseph Kody and Laura Faulk presented grade 5 students with six problems spun from authentic situations in the real world. All the problems were framed around a model of a the fictional Japanese town of Mondaigawa,  meaning “Trouble River” in Japanese, which was suddenly thrust into the spotlight as a result of ecotourism. Some of the problems included animals crossing the track and getting hit by the local train, a decaying bridge disturbing a rare freshwater shark habitat and noise pollution infiltrating an elderly home near the train tracks.

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The students selected problems to work on based upon their interests and for a month, with a teacher “guide” and support from Taryn Loveman (middle school design technology teacher) in the Creative Arts Design Center, they strived to define the issues embedded in the problems and generate, test and refine solutions. The design activity culminated with a student symposium where  they reflected upon problems and solutions, sharing with a panel of town “experts” who asked questions and gave feedback on potential solutions.

Our panel of town “experts” were actually the middle school drama class, who put their improv skills to work when they became the “town council” of Mondaigawa.  After each team of 5th graders presented their solutions, the town council, all in character of course, gave them feedback on their ideas.  To prepare, drama students developed characters complete with names, jobs and distinct personalities.

When asked how the month-long design project had changed their thinking, one student reflected,  “I used to think that I could make everything by myself, but now I know…you can’t always do things alone” and another fifth-grader said, “I used to think…that everything had to go as planned, or it would be terrible, but now I know that you can improvise and it still works!”