The problem-solver. The creator. The scientist. The visionary. The dreamer. The designer.
ExploraVision is a science competition that encourages students to take on every one of these roles throughout the experience. Our students can, in fact, be each of these if we provide them with the opportunity. As part of the ExploraVision program, students are asked to design a future invention in order to solve a current, real-world problem. I keep returning to this competition because I deeply value the variety of ways it challenges my students—and I love the fact that they are so enthusiastic about a project that tests their problem-solving skills.
The ExploraVision process in my classroom always starts with brainstorming. Students put forth any and all thoughts related to the overarching challenge: “design a future invention to solve a current problem.” Some of them contribute problems they have observed in the world around them, such as mosquito-borne illnesses or pollution. Some of them may share ideas they’ve already been thinking about, such as a new phone app or a way to improve something in their lives. To inspire them to think of a wide variety of problems and solutions, we examine the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. This encourages them to branch out and consider problems they may not encounter in their daily lives.
The different roles I mentioned in the beginning are all crucial throughout the brainstorming process. Students may develop amazing ideas and start to form teams. However, early in this process, their team will analyze their ideas for feasibility. Does the idea make sense scientifically? Is this future idea already a current reality? What doesn’t work about the idea? How can we fix it? Throughout this process, students tackle all these questions before they fully commit to their idea, thus using all of the roles mentioned above.
A student team brainstorming potential ExploraVision projects
Design and Teamwork
This is a student-driven and student-owned process. Teams in my classroom work together on a website to develop their invention, which helps them organize their thinking by collaborating on different pages of the project site. Each time they meet, they choose specific tasks they want to accomplish in their time together.
One crucial requirement for student teams is that the members need to be passionate about their topic. This passion unites the team in meeting their common goal. This is also why I even let students who come in on different days work on the same team—it is all about the passion!
Passionate student teams collaborating on their projects
One of my most interesting observations throughout this process is that the more my students learn about their current technology, the more they edit their prototype. This is also where they hone their deep problem-solving skills. Often, students will learn that a material they thought they could use in their design won’t function, or they may find that a current researcher has already thought of their solution. Teams then work to envision the future and imagine innovations that build upon everything they have learned to that point.
If I could offer one piece of advice to teachers interested in ExploraVision, I would suggest getting started as early possible and communicating with families throughout the process. Both my student teams and their parents love being involved from the outset. One year, I had a group of students who worked together during a snow day to get their submission completed on time. Their families helped organize the meeting!
My teams have placed at the honorable mention level, and last year, I coached a regional winning team. The regional winners designed a new type of mosquito repellant that they called “Aedes Anopheles Interceptor (AAI),” which incorporated graphene into its structure. I learned so much from them, because nanotechnology was not one of the topics I studied in college Biology.
My regional-winning student team that invented the “Aedes Anopheles Interceptor”
Overall, the ExploraVision science competition will challenge your students while developing their critical thinking and problem-solving skills. It is worth it!
About the Author:
Erin Nash is an elementary gifted-education instructor who began her 18 years of teaching as a high school Biology teacher. After receiving her gifted certification, she moved into the world of elementary education to teach 3rd to 5th grade students. For the past 7 years, she has engaged her classroom with project-based learning, problem solving, and mathematical thinking.