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Reflections from Kirstin Bullington

Transitioning to e-learning in a collaborative PBL class

When we first started hearing rumors that schools would likely be closed for several weeks, I wasn’t sure how my classes were going to adapt.  Each of my Next Energy Engineering classes consists of students from across the district who have to collaborate to build, test, and optimize alternative energy systems.  I was particularly frustrated because the project we were due to start, solar panel design and manufacturing, had a planned collaboration with a nonprofit in South Africa, to develop solar chargers and study lights together.  

What changed my perspective to a more positive outlook was the immediate  dedication and resilience I witnessed in my students. My students wrote thoughtful, sophisticated engineering reports to finalize their motors project, and asked questions as they ran into problems.  They shared data with each other because some of their colleagues had left their engineering notebooks in the classroom. Some of them took advantage of the extra time and earned their (optional) Employability Soft Skills certification.  They watched Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche’s TED Talk on “The Dangers of a Single Story” and thoughtfully carried out a discussion on Padlet of how single perspectives can influence engineering outcomes. I should mention that some of these students did so while continuing to work and help with younger siblings.

Last week, I was able to round up enough solar kits and tool sets to deliver materials to each student, so that we can continue our solar project, albeit separated from each other.  Each student will document their build and test the efficiency of their charger at different angles and times of the day. We will compile their data and compare to our partners in Vrygond, South Africa, when they get the chance to do the same.

There are some unexpected benefits to our current situation; many of my students have appeared to be on a nocturnal schedule (based on the times they turn in assignments to Google Classroom!), but it seems to be working for them.  There have been several studies about school start times and adolescent sleep cycles; we are at least getting an opportunity for many of our students to work and sleep when it suits them most. I have also benefited from the time in that I have finally been able to explore some VR and robotics kits we received from Samsung Solve for Tomorrow; my son is a very willing test subject, which gives him some extension activities too!  Most of all, I think this experience has given us all, educators and students alike, time to reflect on what is truly important in learning, and to consider what we might need to change when we return to “normal.”

Kirstin Bullington, Midlands Region Finalist

Next Energy Engineering Instructor at Richland Two Institute of Innovation in Richland School District Two.

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