The hands-on problem-based learning my students received caused them to think about who they are as students and citizens of the world.

Problem-based learning helped boost my underserved students’ engagement

The hands-on education my students received caused them to think about who they are as students and citizens of the world

As educators, our charge is to impart knowledge onto our students, open new doors for them, and encourage them to stretch beyond their comfort zones. We try to show them every day that they are capable of doing anything that they set their minds to, but how often do we follow our own advice and push our own boundaries to try or learn something new?

As a physical education teacher in an underserved community, finding ways to connect with my classes during the pandemic and a time of remote learning was challenging. With sports being canceled, I was searching for new avenues to engage my students when I came across the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow contest, a program encouraging problem-based learning.

The contest tasks middle and high school students with identifying a solution to a real-world problem using STEM, and I was hesitant to apply as I do not teach a traditional STEM discipline. However, I knew that my students have a passion for making their community a better place for themselves and their families, and I decided to step outside the box and go for it.

Throughout the course of the project development, I watched my students approach problems from different angles and come up with solutions to real-life issues that they experience every day. My students at Hope of Detroit Academy identified urban decay as an issue that was close to home but affects many other areas in the U.S., and they have seen firsthand how it takes a toll on their community economically, socially, psychologically, and physically. They landed on developing an app to track and report abandoned homes and illegal dumping sites in Detroit to community groups that lead clean-up efforts.

Our project, the Green Warrior app, has been used in Detroit since mid-last year to track where the city has come in to clean up vacant lots, board up or tear down abandoned houses. Our work isn’t done, and we have a goal to roll it out in Spanish as well.

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