K-3 learners dive into design challenge at Kinder Garden School

This year’s statewide design challenge, #STEMdrivesOhio, explores Smart Mobility – using new technologies to improve the mobility of people and goods. That may sound very technical for younger students, but this West Chester school is up to the challenge.

At the Kinder Garden School, youngsters in kindergarten through third grade work on an improved kid’s car seat. By centering safety and community wellness, the school’s using the design challenge as a learning experience. These young learners will even present their idea to a much older group: High school students at Butler Tech.

To find out about the school’s philosophy and collaborations, we contacted Trudi Simpson, director/principal for the school:

Q: Tell us about your school, including the school’s philosophy, the ages of the children you serve and a bit about the type of curriculum you offer each age level.

Kinder Garden school principal Trudi SimpsonA: Our school is a bit different from other STEM schools throughout the state. We started as a preschool that offered Montessori and traditional preschool programs for children ages 6 weeks through kindergarten.

Two years after we opened our preschool, a group of kindergarten parents asked us to extend our grade offerings through first grade. At that time, we added first-, second-, third- and fourth-grade programs.

As our school has continued to evolve with the changing culture of 21st century schools, we have adapted our programming to a problem-based learning model, similar to that offered in Maria Montessori’s theory of child-led learning. Every morning, in our school-wide morning meeting, we discuss our Habits of Mind (Collaborate, Honor and Integrity, Innovation, Listening with Understanding and Empathy and Desire) and our Design Life Cycle (Ask-Imagine-Design-Build-Improve-Share) to enrich our STEM culture and engage the students.

Together with the interaction of child, staff members and family, we develop the complete child. We provide formative encouragement and knowledge with hands-on staff members taking a personal interest in family and holistic education decisions for the child.

The Kinder Garden School is devoted to growing a child’s wish to flourish and learn by cultivating curiosity, innovation and problem-solving proficiency in a full, supportive, fertile, fun setting.

Enlightenment is our mission. Each age level includes lessons covering English language arts, math and humanities. We also include science in the classrooms and have scheduled time for each classroom in our B.L.O.o.M Room (Building Learning Opportunities of Mastery), which is our Makers-Space Science lab. In the lab, the students are encouraged to “fail forward” to find mastery of the subject area.Kinder Garden school habits

Q: Why did the school choose to tackle the #STEMdrivesOhio Design Challenge, and how does work on the design challenge fit in with your school’s philosophy?

A: This design challenge would directly affect the students in our school. As soon as this challenge was presented to the children, they all agreed that tackling car-seat safety is in their best interest and were excited to offer solutions that would be applied to their personal situations.

Because the children have a personal investment in what they are working on, this aligns with our school’s philosophy of following the child.

Q: What age/grade level of children will be working on the project? What sort of work will they do, and what do they hope to produce?

A: Our private charter school students are working on this challenge. We have kindergarten students through third-grade students involved. These students have been presented with the challenge and have decided to retrofit car seats to make improvements to design and install sensors that will alert parents when a child is still in the car seat when the car’s engine is turned off.

Q: Do you have industry/educational partners working with your students and teachers on the design challenge? If so, what assistance are they offering?

Kinder Garden school design cycleA: The STEM coordinator in our school is working on this challenge with the students. She will be attending the training on Oct. 3 at COSI in Columbus and will bring any additional information back to the students.

We have also been in contact with the child passenger safety technician at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center to have her come to the school to speak about car seat safety. We plan to have the West Chester Police Department do a safety lesson with the children as well.

We hope these partners will offer valuable feedback to the children concerning their prototypes throughout this process.

Q: Tell us about the showcase in October where the prototype will be displayed, and will your students have a role in the showcase?

A: We have a strong partnership with our local vocational school, Butler Tech. This summer, staff members there invited us to a training session with High Tech High, a leading STEM school network in San Diego.

After this training, we were invited to share our students’ work at Butler Tech’s high school showcase on Oct. 17. We actually have three projects that our students are working on and plan to at least show prototypes of each.

In science, the children are working on the #STEMdrivesOhio Design Challenge and another project that is a piggyback from last year’s OSLN #STEMfeedsOhio Design Challenge. The children started the year asking our STEM coordinator if they could build their own greenhouse using recycled materials in which to grow their own food. They have been collecting soda bottles during the past few months and have built prototypes for their “Giving House.”

In English language arts, the students are working on the Name the Rover Challenge, in partnership with NASA, Future Engineers and Battelle. So, the children will also have samples of their writing included in the showcase at Butler Tech.

Q: Will your students keep working on this Design Challenge in other ways throughout the school year?

Kinder Garden school studentA: Yes! Each year, we participate in the OSLN Design Challenge. It gives us an opportunity to keep a common thread throughout the year. We will also discuss the Design Challenge in future years. The idea for the “Giving House” prototypes came from the #STEMfeedsOhio Design Challenge last year. That is when I know we are doing great things for the students. The curriculum didn’t end last year; it’s continuing to grow, evolve and change with the changing and maturing perspectives of the students.

Q: How do you think participation in this project benefits students and teachers alike?

A: We love the opportunity to participate in these challenges because it helps us to stay current and keep bringing fresh ideas to our students. The teachers are always looking for fun ideas and perspectives to allow the children to think about a problem in a different light.

My favorite part of these challenges is, there is no one right answer. The children can decide the direction of a solution. It is so empowering to show them that even though they are young and small, they can impact the world around them!

This, in turn, ignites the teachers’ spark for teaching in such a powerful and purposeful way. When teachers become the learners – and we have a nice symbiotic relationship where the students can lead the lesson and become the teachers – I feel like we have finally transitioned to a problem-based learning organization, the heart of a true STEM school.

Everyone wins!

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