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PBS Digital Innovators Take Students Across Miles and Time Zones: The Egg Drop Challenge

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Traveling to Educational Inspiration

This past summer, we had the pleasure of traveling San Antonio, TX, as PBS Digital Innovators for our respective states. There were a myriad of inspirational individuals possessing incredible ideas for implementing PBS content into the classroom.  As fortune would have it, our group which included Elisabeth Bostwick, Steven Lamb, and Rachel Thomas, would create a basis for future collaboration between New Mexico and New York. The power of social media gave us the ability to stay in contact in the subsequent months.

Planning an Experimental Egg Drop 

On one innovative day in February, the planning of a national collaboration centered around NASA Rovers, STEAM creations, and the PBS Design Squad came together. The plan was basic in its inception yet had the potential for much impact:  The Egg Drop Challenge across three time zones, two states, and three classrooms.  The Egg Drop Challenge is an opportunity for students to stretch their engineering minds by creating a structure that will protect a raw egg from a specifically measured fall.  To create the needed background knowledge, students would learn about the Mars Rover and the suspension/ protection needed for it to arrive safely on Mars through PBS Design Squad content. In groups, students were tasked with designing their egg-protecting prototype through sketch noting on Paper 53. Designs commenced toward design experimentation with a hard-boiled egg.  Prescribed materials ranged from rubber bands and balloons to binder clips and straws to maintain consistency.  Rudimentary designs were evaluated, adjusted and recreated for a raw egg. Throughout the process, all three classrooms teleconferenced through Zoom to share ideas, revelations, and to take advantage of real-time collaboration. 

The final trials were completed in a live environment with every raw egg surviving their Design Squad prescribed drop. For teachers and students, what truly stood out was the incredibly different experience of the various parties.   

One Experience: Many Impressions

New York I Horsehead Elementary

Learners in my class were shocked when they found out that they were meeting and collaborating with not one, but two, classes of fourth graders from New Mexico! It was a unique experience for them to virtually share their prototypes and consider the designs of others. While I anticipated a lot of conversation, collaboration, and iterative design as they created their prototypes, I found that they had an intense curiosity for outer space and NASA. Driven to learn more, they extended their exploration during passion time.

Each day, students asked, “When do we get to meet with our friends in New Mexico again?” In addition to the intentional learning, students acquired an understanding of similarities and differences between New York and New Mexico as they listened to their peers share their favorite foods and inquired about the weather. Engaging in virtual collaboration created a more profound learning experience as all students gained more than if we had facilitated in isolation.

New Mexico I Mountain View Elementary

The best parts of any collaboration are the many unexpected moments of learning that occur through working with individuals with different perspectives. One of my favorite moments was the realization of time zones. “Wait, you mean they’re going to lunch right now and we just started?! Is there more than one time zone?”  Upon further examination, “It’s tomorrow in New Zealand?!  It’s like time traveling!” 

Then came the wonderful question, “Are we talking to Ms. Bostwick and Mr. Lamb today?“ “It’s snowing in New York. I wonder if Ms. Bostwick’s class went to school today.”   

New Mexico I North Star Elementary

My students’ reactions were very surprising to me. Rather that embroiling themselves in fierce competition, they were more concerned about how their new peers would react to failure. “What do we do if someone’s egg breaks? Can we send digital sympathy cards?  We’re sorry for your loss?”  Thank goodness.  every egg survived.  

I had one student inquire, “Do you think New York’s balloons will react differently than ours since we’re higher up?” I answered in my wisest teacher voice: “This looks like an opportunity for further research...independently, so you can share with the rest of the class.”  Meanwhile, I admit, I had no idea and was curious to see what he found.

However, the best moment was when students began planning our next activity because distance was irrelevant to them.

Takeaways and Moving Forward Together

While the students were able to work through the design process, learn from failure, collaborate, and work as a digitally empathetic group, the greatest learning occur in the spaces between words.  Motivation and authenticity were at the forefront of this endeavor and each quality innately advanced the other.    

The students created peers across miles, time zones, cultural and national differences. These findings were more impactful than most connections they make within their own classroom.   

Henry Ford once said,” If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.” Our students are practicing what we greatly yearn for them each and every day.  

Elisabeth Bostwick is passionate about empowering learners to identify their passions and leverage their unique strengths to shine. As a result of relentless dedication to moving education forward and fostering future success skills in learners, Elisabeth is a multi-award winning educator, who most recently received the recognition of PBS Digital Innovator All-Star. She is the author of the forthcoming book, Take the L.E.A.P. and is co-authoring the 2nd Edition of Education Write Now. Elisabeth is driven to elevate education by giving back to the greater good while serving as a support and source of inspiration to others.

Rachel is a National Board Certified Teacher of the Navajo Nation. Steven is the Henry Ford Innovative Teacher Award winner.  They believe in making ludicrous brainstorming ideas into positive learning experiences. Together, Rachel and Steven passionately explore Virtual Team Teaching, a method in which two geographically separated teachers digitally collaborate to engage their students in continuous shared learning experiences and lessons. They are also TouchCast Ambassadors, Nearpod Pioneers, NM PBS Digital Innovators, Apple Distinguished Educators, and two time TEDxABQ Education Speakers.

Elisabeth Bostwick, Rachel Thomas and Steven Lamb Incredible Educators

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