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Use Technology to Solve a Local Problem

Summary

Grade Range
4th-8th
Group Size
3-4 students
Active Time
8 hours
Total Time
8 hours
Area of Science
Energy & Power
Key Concepts
Problem solving, engineering design process, internet of things, sensors
Credits
Ben Finio, PhD, Science Buddies
Developed in partnership with Global Problem Solvers: The Series  

Overview

How can technology and the internet help us solve some of the world's most pressing problems? Your students might not be ready to tackle global poverty or world peace, but they can start small by identifying a social problem in their local community. In this lesson plan they will design a solution to a problem of their choice that uses technology. It could be anything from a GPS-enabled dog collar to track lost pets, to an app that notifies local food banks when people have extra fruits and vegetables in their gardens. Note: the lesson focuses on the engineering steps required to identify a problem and conceive of and design a solution. Educators can choose whether or not to expand the lesson to build working prototypes.

This lesson is one of three independent lesson plans inspired by Global Problem Solvers: The Series. You can read more about the series and the lesson plans available from Science Buddies on the Blog: 5 Reasons Global Problem Solvers: The Series Will Inspire STEM Interest in Your Students.

Learning Objectives

NGSS Alignment

This lesson helps students prepare for these Next Generation Science Standards Performance Expectations:
This lesson focuses on these aspects of NGSS Three Dimensional Learning:

Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
Science & Engineering Practices 3rd–5th grade
Asking Questions and Defining Problems. Define a simple design problem that can be solved through the development of an object, tool, process, or system and includes several criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost.

Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions. Generate and compare multiple solutions to a problem based on how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the design problem.


6th–8th grade
Asking Questions and Defining Problems. Define a design problem that can be solved through the development of an object, tool, process or system and includes multiple criteria and constraints, including scientific knowledge that may limit possible solutions.

Engaging in Argument from Evidence. Evaluate competing design solutions based on jointly developed and agreed-upon design criteria.
Disciplinary Core Ideas 3rd–5th grade
ETS1.A: Defining and Delimiting Engineering Problems. Possible solutions to a problem are limited by available materials and resources (constraints). The success of a designed solution is determined by considering the desired features of a solution (criteria). Different proposals for solutions can be compared on the basis of how well each one meets the specified criteria for success or how well each takes the constraints into account.

ETS1.B: Developing Possible Solutions. Research on a problem should be carried out before beginning to design a solution. Testing a solution involves investigating how well it performs under a range of likely conditions.


6th–8th grade
ETS1.A: Defining and Delimiting Engineering Problems. The more precisely a design task's criteria and constraints can be defined, the more likely it is that the designed solution will be successful. Specification of constraints includes consideration of scientific principles and other relevant knowledge that are likely to limit possible solutions.
Crosscutting Concepts 3rd–5th grade
Influence of Science, Engineering, and Technology on Society and the Natural World.
Engineers improve existing technologies or develop new ones to increase their benefits, decrease known risks, and meet societal demands.


6th–8th grade
Influence of Science, Engineering, and Technology on Society and the Natural World.
The uses of technologies and limitations on their use are driven by individual or societal needs, desires, and values; by the findings of scientific research; and by differences in such factors as climate, natural resources, and economic conditions.

Materials

Optional: if you want your students to build prototypes or mockups of their designs, you will need craft supplies such as:

Background Information for Teachers

This section contains a quick review for teachers of the science and concepts covered in this lesson.

Global Problem Solvers: The Series pits a group of teenagers against some tough real-world engineering challenges. You can use this video series to help frame engineering problems for your students and show how engineers can have real-world impact and help people. These two videos show trailers for the first and second seasons of the show:


Trailer for Global Problem Solvers Season 1

Trailer for Global Problem Solvers Season 2

The first two seasons address problems like unreliable village water supplies in Malawi and students' need for a place to attend school after a hurricane in the United States. These are the types of challenges that real engineers tackle to help improve people's lives and make the world a better place. The Global Problem Solvers use a process called social entrepreneurship to tackle problems. You can read more about the teen Global Problem Solvers, their "superpowers," and their problem-solving process in 5 Reasons Global Problem Solvers: The Series Will Inspire STEM Interest in Your Students. Global Problem Solvers: The Series is based on a 7-step process of social entrepreneurship. This process is similar, but not identical, to the engineering design process that you may already be familiar with. The worksheet provided for students in this lesson is tailored to fit this specific project and adds the business aspects of social entrepreneurship to the engineering design process.

In this project, your students will be challenged to identify a real-world problem in their own community, and propose a solution to that problem using technology. Depending on where you live, the problems your students identify could vary quite a bit. Here are just a few examples of problems social entrepreneurs have tackled using technology:

  • Students designed a GPS-enabled dog collar to allow people to track their lost pets.
  • An app that notifies volunteers at local food banks when people have extra fruits and vegetables from their gardens and trees, so the food does not go to waste.
  • Wearable equipment can monitor when an elderly person falls and automatically call for help.
  • Drones can fly over fields and take pictures to help farmers figure out which parts of their crops might need more water or fertilizer.

Many of these solutions involve sending data over the internet, sometimes from a device that isn't a computer (like a dog collar). These devices make up the Internet of Things, or IoT for short. Advances in technology have made IoT devices cheaper and easier to build. Many household electronic devices (like thermostats, garage door openers, and even refrigerators) are now IoT-enabled. Some of the devices also use electronic sensors. Electronic sensors can gather measurements of the physical world and store this information on a computer or send it over the internet. There are many different types of electronic sensors. Since your students might not be familiar with the Internet of Things and electronic sensors, we have provided a handout you can give them to help them brainstorm.

Your students might be able to readily identify problems in their community, especially if they are highly visible (like littering). If they have trouble, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals could be a good source of inspiration. They include things like ending poverty, providing food security for everyone on Earth, transitioning to sustainable and renewable energy. While these are global problems, they affect many communities on a local scale.

Prep Work (10 minutes)

Engage (1 hour)

Explore (6 hours)

Reflect (1 hour)

Assess

Make Career Connections

Lesson Plan Variations

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