5 Reasons Global Problem Solvers: The Series Will Inspire STEM Interest in Your Students

A free animated series from Cisco emphasizes teamwork, social, and creative skills in solving world challenges. With a team of teens each with a real-world superpower, the GPS series educates kids about STEM-based problem solving and social entrepreneurship and inspires them to find and use their own superpowers.

Above: The Global Problem Solvers: The Series trailer.

"My name is Putri, and I have assembled a team to take on our world's toughest challenges."

Meet the Global Problem Solvers (GPS), a group of smart, caring, and creative teens who use STEM, teamwork, and social entrepreneurship to solve real problems in communities around the world.

STEM Superheroes

When it comes to epic problems and inspiring solutions that save the day, nothing beats a good superhero story. With Global Problem Solvers: The Series (GPS: The Series), a free online animated video series, Cisco has created a superhero team of creative and STEM-savvy teens who are on a mission to solve real-world problems, one challenge at a time. Using their individual interests and skills, and working collaboratively, the team analyzes problems, brainstorms and prototypes solutions, and evaluates and adapts solutions to make them more effective, scalable, and sustainable.

At Science Buddies, we want to help educators tap into innovative resources to support hands-on STEM learning that relates to the real world and empowers students to mobilize their skills for the future. Developed for grades 4-8, GPS: The Series takes what kids love about superhero stories and blends it with science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) and social entrepreneurism. The result is a fresh and engaging series that will inspire teens about STEM and evoke a sense of personal agency. Beyond the fact that GPS: The Series is fun to watch, here are five reasons we believe GPS: The Series is a powerful tool for STEM educators:

  1. The series presents teens as superheroes, and these teens have awesome STEM skills.
  2. The series focuses on real problems that affect individual communities and the world but with positive outcomes that emphasize the power of STEM and teamwork.
  3. The series shows that approaching problem solving with a series of repeatable steps can make any problem solvable.
  4. The series uses a step-wise problem solving approach that pairs with the steps of the Engineering Design Process in ways that reinforce STEM learning.
  5. The series highlights critical 21st century skills like teamwork, critical thinking, communication, creativity, and innovation in conjunction with STEM, social awareness, and entrepreneurship.

Putting GPS: The Series STEM in Action with Science Buddies

Science Buddies has partnered with Cisco to create STEM-focused resources educators can use to bring GPS: The Series into the science classroom. In time for the 2019-20 school year, Science Buddies will be developing NGSS-aligned Lesson Plans that pair with the GPS series. These free Lesson Plans will provide guided classroom activities that relate to the STEM skills and innovative solutions students see in GPS: The Series.

Science Buddies is excited about GPS: The Series as a platform for sparking STEM interest in students. To give educators a sense of the powerful potential of the GPS series as a classroom tool when combined with Science Buddies' lessons, Science Buddies will be at the 2019 International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) in Philadelphia, PA, June 23-26, workshopping the brand-new GPS series lessons.

To learn more about GPS: The Series, here is a deeper look at the series and the five reasons we think you will want to incorporate this animated series into your STEM classroom.

Superhero Teens

GPS: The Series presents teens as heroes, and these teens have awesome STEM skills.

With hovercraft, bungee-shoes, skateboards, a jet pack, an airship, fly burgers, goggles with ultrasonic sensors, and plenty of silly moments, the animated GPS series presents a set of smart, creative, innovative, and STEM-savvy teens that kids will find interesting, fun to watch, and inspiring. These teens have just the right amount of cool factor, fun hair, diversity, and lots of can-do attitude. They also have loads of good ideas for how to solve the problems they encounter. They work together, they use their individual skills and strengths, and when they need help, they bring in other experts, including other teens with special skills and interests.

Some of the Global Problem Solvers team members
Above: Five members of the Global Problem Solvers: The Series team.

Like the Justice League, Teen Titans, and the Avengers, the GPS series highlights the value of working together. Successfully solving the world's problems requires the combined efforts of many people, and in GPS: The Series, Cisco identifies six attributes essential for successful global problem solving. These attributes are embodied by the GPS team of teens:

  • Beela, digital skills
  • Adrien, creativity
  • Satoshi, critical thinking
  • Kelile, social consciousness
  • Cristina, entrepreneurial spirit
  • Putri, teamwork skills

Relatable Real-world Stories

GPS: The Series focuses on real problems that affect individual communities and the world but with good endings that emphasize the power of STEM and teamwork.

Two seasons of GPS: The Series are currently available. Each season focuses on a single problem and the teen team's search for a way to solve the problem or improve the situation using STEM, innovative thinking, and entrepreneurial spirit.

Image from Season 1 of Global Problem Solvers: The Series
Above: Image from Global Problem Solvers: The Series, Season 1.

Season 1

In Season 1, people in a village in Malawi are having trouble getting clean drinking water. Local well pumps are broken, technicians are not coming by for routine checkups, and girls are missing school. The GPS team evaluates the situation and comes up with a plan to fix the immediate problem with the wells using sensor-based monitoring. They extend their solution to monitor all the wells in the area in real-time with a networked solution so that technicians can be dispatched more effectively and problems can be taken care of more quickly and with less disruption to local communities.

Image from Season 2 of Global Problem Solvers: The Series
Above: Image from Global Problem Solvers: The Series, Season 2.

Season 2

In season 2, Ivy Stormcatcher, a teen Internet video star contacts the Global Problem Solvers after a hurricane hits the Gulf Coast of the United States and leaves local schools without power or Internet. Until students are able to return to school, the community cannot begin to return to normal. The GPS team comes up with the idea of a "First Aid Kit" that schools can use to create popup classrooms anywhere. The kit will be portable, rugged, solar-powered, and will contain lights and tools to enable Internet access.

The problems presented in both seasons are ones with which students can identify. As the GPS team solves these problems, they model the use of STEM and 21st century skills in real-world scenarios.

Breaking Big Problems into Smaller Steps

GPS: The Series shows that approaching problem solving with a series of repeatable steps can make any problem solvable.

Each season of GPS: The Series is broken down into seven short episodes. At under four minutes each, these animated videos are easy to integrate into the classroom and are short enough to keep students engaged and eager to find out what's next. The structure of each season also reflects the value of a systematic approach to problem solving and social entrepreneurship, defined as the development of solutions designed to solve a social problem.

In educator materials for GPS: The Series, Cisco outlines the steps of social entrepreneurship as follows:

  1. Form a great team
  2. Identify the problem
  3. Develop a solution
  4. Add technology
  5. Make a business plan
  6. Test and improve
  7. Launch your social enterprise and spread the word

GPS: The Series uses this sequence of steps to provide the framework for the story in each season. The team works through each of these steps in solving the challenge, and episode titles like "The Problem," "The Solution," and "The Technology" map to the sequential structure of this core problem-solution process.

The Engineering Design Process

GPS: The Series employs a step-wise problem solving approach that pairs with the steps of the Engineering Design Process in ways that reinforce STEM learning.

Students familiar with the Engineering Design Process will quickly see the similarity between the social entrepreneurship steps and the engineering method. That each GPS: The Series season uses the same steps helps reinforce for students that this approach is a repeatable set of problem solving steps. Just as in the engineering design process, identifying and clearly articulating the problem is always key. With the problem clearly stated, the team does research, talks with experts, evaluates existing data, and brainstorms solutions. Once they have identified and selected a possible solution, they prototype it to see if it will work, test and evaluate, and then continue to evolve and refine the solution. There are sometimes unexpected problems caused by natural forces (like a lake causing issues with communications) and sometimes problems caused by local rules and regulations (like errors in filing the proper permits).

The appearance of challenges that arise on the way to solving the problems in each story helps remind students that solving problems takes work, and refining solutions is part of the process. These teens come up with amazing and innovative ideas, but even good ideas sometimes require modification to make them work in the real world. The engineering design process, after all, is an iterative process!

21st Century Skills

GPS: The Series highlights critical 21st century skills like teamwork, critical thinking, communication, creativity, and innovation in conjunction with STEM, social awareness, and entrepreneurship.

Solutions to problems in GPS: The Series often depend upon STEM. But a combination of STEM, critical thinking, communication, and social skills are required for the GPS team's ideas to succeed. In each season, the teens work hard to understand the community, network with local experts, communicate their ideas, develop business plans, work with local businesses, think creatively, and devise solutions that will solve the problem and be sustainable by the community.

With the emphasis on social entrepreneurship, GPS stories stress the importance of the long-term feasibility and self-management of community solutions. The Global Problem Solvers make a point to try and understand the ways in which a community's cultural, economic, or social history relates to the problem at hand and to take that information into consideration when designing a solution. Local businesses, too, are an integral part of the social entrepreneurship model, and the GPS team utilize local resources and devise solutions that communities can maintain on their own once the GPS team leaves.

What Other Educators are Saying

The video above introduces educators to GPS: The Series and showcases real teachers and classrooms that have been using the video series to teach students about innovation, teamwork, and leadership skills. The series was created for students in grades 4-8, but students in other grades may still enjoy and learn from the series.

Downloadable teacher guides, available for free on the series website, offer suggestions for group discussion, episode summaries, and worksheets. Prompts that can be used for independent reflection or for classroom discussion are also provided at the end of each episode.

GPS: The Series was a finalist in the 2019 EdTech Awards in the 21st century skills category.


Science Buddies has partnered with Cisco Corporate Social Responsibility to help spread the word about Global Problem Solvers: The Series and develop STEM lesson plans for teachers to use with the animated series in the classroom.

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