On a recent Thursday evening, Ginger Becker’s second grade classroom at Marion Elementary School was full of bright-eyed, eager learners fascinated by what they were seeing.
The learners were parents, relatives, and friends who had come to see the inventions Becker’s students had dreamed up as part of a class project about inventors. Many said it was unlike anything they remembered doing in second grade.
“Not anything remotely close,” Doug Regnier said. “We weren’t doing this stuff in middle school.”
“It’s exciting to watch the parents’ faces,” Becker said. “A lot of kids didn’t tell their parents until they came. It was a secret.”
The event started in the computer lab, where students showed computer-based presentations about inventors they chose to study. They compiled their Internet-based research with a program called ThingLink, which combines images and text in on-screen links parents could click on to learn various facts about a given inventor.
“On ThingLink they had to work on their grammar, capitalization, and punctuation,” Becker said. “We covered a lot of ground.”
Superintendent Lee Leiker was among those going from computer to computer, learning along with all the rest.
“This is great stuff,” he said. “I’m so excited for what these kids have the opportunity to do. It speaks to the quality of teaching these days.”
The biggest surprises were found when the group moved to Becker’s classroom, where drawings of children’s inventions were waiting.
“What they tried to brainstorm about is something to make things better for someone else,” Becker said.
Alyera created a school meal dispenser.
“It’s for our cooks here,” she said. “You put in your coins and they push what they want, and out comes their lunch. They don’t get their pots and pans dirty.”
The design had enough buttons that the dispenser could hold any type of food, she said, and could be restocked monthly.
Erin wanted to invent something to help the custodians.
“They’re always tired from walking around all day,” she said. “They do a lot of hard work.”
Her solution was a riding vacuum cleaner with an optional standing position. It would operated with buttons, stop by itself, and pivot in place for turning in tight spots.
“Everybody that comes by me says they want one,” Erin said.
Among the creative solutions students came up with were sorters for pills and for laundry, an elevator activated by a bracelet, and a toothbrush equipped with a sensor that would beep in places teeth hadn’t been brushed.
Javon Koehn, Alyera’s father, took interest in a modified semi trailer design.
“I really like this one — it’s a filter for all the bad things that come out of a truck engine,” he said. “Notice there’s no tires; it’s completely frictionless. That’s neat. I’d have never thought a second-grader could think of that.”
A project-based approach encourages children to learn by integrating information from isolated subject areas and applying their knowledge to create solutions, Becker said. Projects engage higher-order thinking skills, such as analyzing and synthesizing, that go beyond memorization.
“They’re not going to remember that fill-in-the-blank,” Becker said. “They’re going to remember this.”