What is the point of STEM and STEAM education if it doesn’t extend to improving community and society? Our project for my Year 9 Design, Technology and Aerospace class was to help mobilise the elderly residents living in the Peninsula Palms Retirement Village next door to our college. Students were given the challenge to improve these residents’ lives in meaningful ways. It compelled them to get outside, connect with another generation, and develop their own character in their individual journeys.
Over the course of Term Three this year, from the ground up, my students iterated on conceptual designs through to prototypes, using a combination of sketches, CAD work in OnShape on iPads and iMacs, 3D printing of bespoke casings, and Arduino or LittleBits circuitry. Project ideas ranged from wireless mailbox letter detectors, automatic garden sprinkler systems with moisture sensors, automatic motion-sensing night lights, pet feeders, through to cloud-based doorbell SMS notifications. All projects aimed to reduce the elderly from physically injuring themselves around the home, and catering for memory or hearing losses.
The aim was an invention that could be mass produced cheaply for the less mobile in society, with easy installation and low maintenance. Students were highly engaged throughout the entire process, because they could see first-hand why and how their learning impacted the lives of those in their community, and directly contribute. When students can reflect on why their learning is helping people they care about, and they enjoy the connection created with an older generation, it pays dividends in their empathy for those people and their own journeys.