Equipped with recycled materials, such as bottles, boxes and tape, Bronxville Elementary School fourth graders took on the roles of innovators to create school structures capable of withstanding flooding.
The students collaborated with their peers to bring their visions to life while adjusting their structures as they tested them in water bins. Throughout the process, many of the fourth graders used empty plastic egg cartons and water bottles as a foundation of their floating school structures, reinforcing them with tape. They also added finishing touches, such as desks, chairs, playgrounds and even miniature people, bringing a sense of realism to their designs.
For fourth grader Nadine Levinson and her group, the journey was an important lesson in perseverance. Facing the challenge of a sinking structure, they experimented with different solutions. Initially, they used sponges on the bottom of their school, but faced setbacks as the sponges absorbed too much water, causing it to sink. Then, they made adjustments, trying various bottle sizes until they succeeded on the third attempt.
“When you fail, it’s okay, because you just keep trying until it works,” said Levinson, who enjoyed collaborating with her classmates. “It was fun creating a boat and seeing it actually work.”
The hands-on project was part of a broader exploration that began with the fundamental question of “Why would a person feel the need to be innovative to develop a new product or service?” Prior to constructing their floating schools, the students delved into the lives of various New York State innovators who have left a lasting impact. Following the research, they discussed the essence of innovation and what defines an innovator. Guided by the language of the Bronxville Promise, the fourth graders established a set of criteria for success, setting the stage for their roles as innovators in the “floating school” project.
Throughout the learning experience, the students were presented with a real-world problem of flooding of schools, a challenge that hit close to home. Assistant Superintendent for Business Dan Carlin provided historical context and shared insight into the history of flooding and its impact on the Bronxville School. In addition, the students watched videos from FEMA and explored innovative solutions from places like Bangladesh and Southeast Asia, where floating schools ensure children can attend school during monsoon season.
The students utilized the design thinking process throughout all stages of the project and developed criteria for success to evaluate themselves as innovators. Many of the students said they would apply the idea of being an innovator to their lives outside of the floating school task.
“At the end of the project when the students reflected on themselves as innovators it was amazing to hear them say things like 'I persevered through a challenge,' 'I thought outside of the box to come up with a solution to the challenge', 'I learned from my mistakes,'” teacher Lauren Wright said. “They truly embraced the innovative spirit.”