Solving Real World Problems at Foothill Knolls Stem Academy of Innovation

Jennifer Morris

We believe that children can save our world by solving “wicked” problems through design thinking. At Foothill Knolls Stem Academy of Innovation, our Project Based Learning opportunities provide teachers and students with authentic learning that organically promotes science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and empowers kids to be a part of solving today’s problems.  Our fourth grade students are highly concerned with animal rights. They are true animal lovers. Our conversations on classism, racism, gender bias, age bias, and homelessness often lead to ideas about animal rights. If you require empathy for humans, shouldn’t you require empathy for non-humans as well?  Why does human life hold a greater value than animal life? Why do some animals hold a greater value than other animals? These were questions they wanted to investigate deeper. Utilizing their knowledge of empathy and growth mindset through design thinking, our kids build the skills they need to solve world problems.  Therefore, I wasn’t surprised when the kids decided they wanted to save the native animals of the Channel Islands.

At the time, we were reading Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell when they came up with the idea.  They are always looking at the world through the lens of biodiversity conservation and a child’s mind.  With the lone woman of San Nicolas Island as their muse, my students became enchanted with the island and all of its native animals.  It was unsettling for them to learn about the damage invasive species are currently causing on the islands. While watching the video on the feral cat removal efforts, they requested that Island Conservation become our next project based learning focus.  Who was I to say no to their passion that fit perfectly into our science standards. Relentlessly, the students researched the island animals and discovered that many of them were endangered. During their research, students came upon the Island Conservation website and decided they wanted to help save the island animals.  After a 10 minute idea bombing session, we decided as a class to present our research to the community and ask for donations to Island Conservation to support our research efforts.  My students produced meaningful work through their Google Slide presentations and nonfiction narratives on the native animals of the Channel Islands.  The class set a goal to raise $150.00. In February, they presented their hard work to the community and surpassed their goal by raising $378.00 in donations to help prevent extinctions on the islands.  When they got back a letter from Island Conservation saying “this is the first donation of this kind”, the students fell hook, line, and sinker into continuing their conservation work.

They were so empowered by their ability to help Island Conservation that they wanted to continue to support the cause.  They thought, “if our fourth grade classroom could support Island Conservation, then there are a million other classrooms that could support them as well.”  They decided that by sharing our learning with others, they could start a conservation movement. The students decided to they wanted to present their work to a grander audience and chose the California STEAM Symposium as a platform in an effort to spread their idea to teachers and other classrooms.  I helped them complete an application and away we soared. At the conference, they continued to share their learning with teachers who were amazed at their refined presentation skills and actually offered to donate another $100.00! Teachers took pamphlets that outlined their work and committed to continued fundraising for the cause.  Again, they wanted to continue their work and push it out to a larger audience. The students decided to create and post a video about their learning process and why meaningful conservation work was critical to their learning.  Their work continues to inspire their studies and others to this day. The teachers and students at Foothill Knolls STEM Academy of Innovation continue to feel confident that children can make a difference and change the world little by little through shareyourlearning with others.  Follow us on Twitter @FKSTEM