You might not normally picture third-graders working on 3-D printers using computer-aided design, or conversing about solar energy with students halfway around the world. But thanks to the Level Up Village project, that’s exactly what’s happening at All Saints’ Episcopal Day School, a private elementary and middle school in north-central Phoenix.
Sitting in a semicircle on the floor, these students with bright, eager faces are listening to technology teacher Tracey Williams’ instructions for the day. They’re excited about learning new technology and sharing their experiences through video “letters” with students working on the same projects in India and the West Bank.
“They are so excited just to see the videos, and they’re so excited when they have similarities,” Williams says. “They have the same partners the whole time: eight weeks getting to know these kids.”
The collaboration pairs students at schools in the U.S., Australia and the United Kingdom with students taking the same course at one of Level Up’s vetted global partner schools. Level Up Village offers several courses, but in this Global Inventors class, kids are making 3-D printed solar flashlights, and — through the video letters — are learning what they have in common with other kids from around the world.
“They can see someone who is more like themselves than they realize, and they can communicate with them,” third-grade teacher Robert Beukema says. “It totally opens the world for them. It makes the world appropriately smaller, rather than, ‘I’ll never talk to these people; I’ll never know what’s halfway around the world or know about someone who lives in India.’ It makes the world smaller.”
All Saints’ pays to participate in the program, which was developed in 2012 in Old Greenwich, Connecticut. With those funds, Level Up Village buys the 3-D equipment for schools in developing countries, trains the teachers and assists with the video exchanges. For this particular project, the students at All Saints’ are partnered with Pioneers Baccalaureate School in Nablus, West Bank, and Ekalavya Schools in Bangalore, India.
Level Up sends a curriculum, videos on the country and videos on solar energy projects in the country.
“The whole idea is for kids to learn about kids from another country that maybe might not be as privileged as they are and might not have the same kind of background that they do, but they can find similarities and find ways that they have things in common,” Williams says
Level Up Village also sends the solar panels that attach to the flashlights and the inner workings; it’s up to Williams to do the rest. She’s found the third-graders can master computer-assisted design to create the boxes that hold the material for the solar flashlights. In fact, it’s usually eye-opening for the students to discover just what they can do.
Kongkasem Suchart has been amazed at his achievements.
“I thought it was going to be very hard and I would not be able to do it,” he says, “and I found out that I could! My favorite part is that we learn how to make the 3-D printed things. I didn’t know how to do that before. The part I like the most is to see my design get printed.”
Classmate Nora O’Donovan enjoys meeting the students in other countries during video exchanges (time differences prevent kids from doing real-time video chats, so the videos are pre-recorded). Nora and her partner have been paired with Keerthana, a student their age from India.
“It surprises me she speaks English so well; she’s very fluent in English. I wish I could do that in another language,” Nora says, adding that Keerthana, who sometimes “wears braids, too,” has been fun to get to know because she’s so nice.
“The thing I found out about her is that (we’re) a little bit alike. She’s the same age and probably about the same grade. In one of her videos, we asked her how does she like her school, and she said she really did have fun in school.”
All the global students speak English in the videos, but Level Up Village provides subtitles in case they’re needed. Williams laughs when her students get upset if their names are pronounced incorrectly and reminds the children these kids are speaking a second language.
The conversations get a little help from the teachers, who prompt questions for the videos, such as: If you could invent anything in the world, what would it be and why? What was your favorite part about this course? What do you like to do after school? When was a time you failed at something but figured it out later? Williams says the exchange is more about their personalities, “but they also show the flashlights.”
Outreach and giving back are big parts of All Saints’ philosophy, so when the flashlights are finished, the third-graders will send them to a sister school in Haiti, where the flashlights will be appreciated because the electrical grid there isn’t reliable.
Learn more about the program at aseds.org.
Level Up Village
Level Up Village sponsors Global STEAM education during school, after school and during the summer at more than 150 U.S. schools partnered with more than 30 global organizations in more than 20 countries. Learn more at levelupvillage.com.
Three additional Arizona schools have offered Level Up Village curriculum:
• Tartesso Elementary School (Saddle Mountain Unified School District) in Buckeye partnered with students from Kenya.
• Desert Trails Elementary (Paradise Valley Unified School District) in Phoenix collaborated with students in Costa Rica.
• Fireside Elementary (Paradise Valley Unified School District) in Phoenix corresponded with students from iEARN Jordan in Amman, Jordan, and Gayaza High School, an all-girls school in Uganda.