Project Based Learning in Action

When is the last time you got excited about valves? I’m sure it was just yesterday, right?

Yesterday, I handed my 7th grader some “How Things Work” books and hinted to check the index. He quickly flipped to the back, searching for “valve,” and got so excited that he jumped up and down and hugged me. So, why would a 7th grader be so interested in valves? That’s easy…it’s Project Based Learning in action.

This is our 3rd year participating in F.I.R.S.T. Lego League. FLL combines a LEGO robotics competition with a real-world problem solving project and teaches kids how to work together as a team. Every year, we have had a new set of homeschoolers join our team. Every year we start the season shocked by the lack of collaboration skills our team members collectively possess. Every year we witness amazing growth that happens when kids are allowed to tackle big problems as a team.

This year the theme is “Hydrodynamics.” Teams had to learn about the human water cycle, identify a problem, and innovate a solution. The Robo Wolves decided to tackle the problem in the wastewater treatment process. When sewage travels to the wastewater treatment plant, it goes downhill because they use gravity to their advantage. At some point, it doesn’t make sense to keep pipes going down any farther and they have to use a lift station to pump the sewage back up. These lift station pumps use lots of electricity and that costs the plant lots of money. One of the kids on the team had the idea of using air pressure to force the sewage up the pipe instead of running water pumps constantly.

The team is currently working on researching electric usage comparisons between water pumps and air pumps and trying to figure out how to determine if their idea would allow the same amount of sewage movement with less electricity. They have also been building a working model of their air pressure pump with a bucket and pvc pipe. As they were working on their model yesterday they discovered one major flaw in their design…back flow. This led to a discussion on valves and flaps. They thought about how heart values and an epiglottis work to prevent liquids from flowing the wrong way. They decided to all go home and search for more information about valves and flaps to discover a solution to fix their model.

That is why my 7th grader hugged me when I handed him four thick research books. Then he spent over an hour devouring all the information he found. This morning, as soon as he woke up, he was wanting to experiment with “valves” and he is excited to share his findings and ideas with his team tomorrow.

Project Based Learning creates a desire for information and understanding that is purposeful and authentic. It adds excitement to the learning process by turning it into a treasure hunt. As students continue to add new knowledge, skills, and experiences, they develop a deeper understanding.

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