Fifth graders at Shepardson Elementary teamed up with Colorado State University to brainstorm ways to decrease the amount of non-renewable energy use at the university’s Mountain Campus. They learned about environmental issues while visiting the campus in the fall for Eco Week as part of Poudre School District’s outdoor education program.
Some solutions from the fifth graders included installing wind turbine trees, solar panels and Aqua-Therm wood boilers to generate energy for the dorms. One group suggested utilizing motion sensor lights and low-flow toilets to decrease the Mountain Campus’ overall energy use.
Shepardson Elementary is in its first year incorporating the Problem-Based Learning model. With this model, students in kindergarten through fifth grade are presented with authentic problems from companies within the community and are encouraged to work together in groups to find solutions. Students participate in field trips and interact with guest speakers during their preparation for a final presentation of their ideas.
“We adopted Problem Based Learning as our delivery model for STEM,” said Becky Woodcox, STEM coordinator at Shepardson Elementary. “You can see from the presentations that the kids have had to research and put their inquiring minds on. We feel like the Problem Based Learning model is going to prepare our kids for the future.”
Everyone involved with PBL can see what an impact the program has made on the students at Shepardson.
“I love that it teaches kids at a young age that, if there’s a problem out there, they can find solutions and make a difference in their community and the world around them,” said Angela Mitchell, a counselor at Shepardson. “That’s really an empowering message to give kids.”
The fifth graders also visited Rawhide Energy Station and CSU’s Powerhouse Energy Campus to meet with engineers and learn about alternative energy.
“This is neat to see them thinking critically about some of the things they saw and experienced during their Eco Week experience,” said Seth Webb, CSU Mountain Campus’ assistant director.
With these tools, the fifth graders were divided into small groups in the beginning of the year and tasked with finding solutions for the Mountain Campus. Their project culminated in a final presentation in front of a series of panelists.
The elementary school brought in former principal Mary Kay Sommers, Joel Danforth from the Platte River Power Authority and Colorado State Forest Service Outreach Division Supervisor Kim Mueller to hear the students’ pitches.
Panelists commended the students on their hard work and provided constructive feedback to the teams. The panelists filled out a rubric for each group, giving points for presentation skills and content.
“I think our presentation went great because we spoke clearly and we weren’t fidgeting,” said Everett, a fifth grader at Shepardson Elementary.
Members of the class talked about their favorite parts of the project.
“I think just finding out that wind trees actually exist and researching the whole project was my favorite part,” Everett said.
“I liked putting together the (Powerpoint) slides,” said Nora, who filled the role of creative director on her team.
After each group was done presenting, the adult panelists met to discuss the proposed plans and viable solutions with Webb.
Beyond exposing the fifth graders to real problems within the community, another goal of the Problem-Based Learning program is for the companies involved to end up utilizing the students’ proposed solutions.
If a group’s solution proves to be particularly viable, their presentation will be shared in hopes that their suggestions will be put in place at CSU’s Mountain Campus.
“I think the presentations have been great,” Webb said. “Very creative and well thought out. They’ve shown a lot of enthusiasm for the Mountain Campus. I think there’s a possibility that we could seriously discuss some of these ideas.”
Anna Nixon can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @anna_nixon12.