By Jamie Brewer
Ingham County Chronicle
The East Lansing Design For America division is working to find a way to help elementary students at low-income schools in Lansing learn about alternative energy in an interactive and fun way.
DFA is a national organization that uses design to create social impact, according to East Lansing DFA President Evan Fried.
The question the group came up with was, “How can we assist teachers in low-income schools in teaching alternative energy in an attractive way?” DFA member Hannah Hunter said.
Low-income schools’ main focus is raising standardized tests scores, according to Sarah Laurens, a fifth grade teacher at Lansing’s North School. Therefore the teachers at North School were excited to have DFA step in and help encourage alternative ways of learning to the students.
“In particular, I enjoyed their open-mindedness and flexibility towards working with my students who are predominantly non-native English speakers,” Laurens said.
North School is a kindergarten through sixth grade elementary school with over 600 students. A majority of these students are English learners. Many of the students have come from war-torn countries with interruptions in their education or from refugee camps in Lansing. North School also has an autism program, a deaf and hard-of-hearing program and a cognitively impaired program, according to Laurens.
Laurens said there is a lot of stress for teachers to focus on raising standardized test scores which may be hurting teachers and students.
“I feel a haunting sense of sadness, as my gut tells me that we are sliding backwards into an atlas-style teaching model of the 1950s while paying lip service to cutting-edge, research-based teaching models,” Laurens said.
The conversation over whether standardized testing should evaluate students has grown. The 2014-2015 recipient of Michigan’s teacher of the year, Melody Arabo, said in her speech some students “don’t do well on standardized tests because they don’t have standardized minds. Why should any mind be standard?”
Laurens said standardized testing as a measurement of learning “is what public education is trending now.”
According to Michigan Department of Education that requires 95% of students take the state issued exams, “The 95 percent test participation rate ensures that Michigan public schools are in compliance with the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001, which requires that 95 percent of students enrolled are tested with the state’s assessment programs.”
The low-income schools such as North School do not have the resources to teach projects such as what DFA plans to teach. The organization is giving these students the opportunity to learn beyond preparing for the state issued exams.
Fried said that working with younger children is ideal because the students are impressionable at this age.
Laurens said, “What better time is there to build upon their innate curiosity and creativity while providing innovative learning experiences that allow for open-ended applications and responses?”
The organization of students has a month to put together two prototypes to teach the fifth grade classroom. They were inspired by Lansing’s Impression 5 Science Center to create a learning environment that is engaging and interactive to children.
“We wanted to bring the feel of an exhibit to a school,“” Fried said.
The first prototype is a train powered solely by magnets. The organization, which pays out-of-pocket for the materials, is determined to influence the fifth graders to understand how easy it is to conserve energy.
The second project DFA will teach is a “canventional” oven that uses solar power to cook food.
Hunter said they are planning to use soda or soup cans to harness the sun and create a tool to cook food.
Awareness of the benefits of alternative energy is the main goal DFA has for this fifth grade class.
Laurens said, “Alternative energy research and applications will provide a means to continued support of human life on our planet. This is their future!”