Unleashing Problem Solvers

One of the #PocomokeScholars is cutting a PVC pipe to use in her #EduDroneChallenge obstacle course. Students worked in groups to design and create a obstacle course where a quadcopter drone would fly through.

Pass me the pipe cutters.

Be careful. You want to get the measurement just right or it won’t be balanced when it stands.

I’ll hold it steady for you.

The conversation above was a typical day when students were working together to achieve a particular task in my school’s #EduDroneChallenge. Students were physically building their paper designs into real structures using PVC pipes that could later be used as an obstacle course for our mini quadcopter drones to fly through.

Some of the structures were simplistic, requiring drones to fly through and around them mostly, but as we got more comfortable the creations became more sophisticated. The scenario given to #PocomokeScholars was design a course your drone must fly through that could be found in a level of a video game. First, it needed to be drawn using a scale model — shout out to the math teacher who teamed up with me to take on that component of the project. Next, we had to determine the materials needed and actually build it.

Reading rulers and conceptualizing their drawing into a physical structure was our biggest challenges. Everyone was able to play with the drone, but could they use it as well as other skills to complete an authentic learning task?

Designing a New Product

Being a reading teacher, I often here colleagues get caught up in assessing the standards in a very traditional format — that of the state standardized assessment. Yes, those assessments are necessary from time to time, but they don’t cultivate a love of learning in students; it actually makes them resentful towards learning in my experiences. 

#PocomokeScholars design infographics to display their understanding of a pair of informational texts.

Therefore, the making or creating something relevant to the standards being assessed allows for students to show mastery through creativity and innovation. Igniting the fire to learn is the most important ingredient to get a student’s motor running. In middle school ELA classes, I focus on developing a tool from the text to depict a major concept in the book. For instance, at the conclusion of reading Hatchet students design a tool that would help the main character Brian survive using a box of junk I collect throughout the year. Another example is after reading some informational texts on a subject (i.e., smog) allow students to develop either a meme or infographic to support the author’s message about the topic. 

Applying Numerous Skills to Real-World Challenge

Don’t get caught up with teaching one skill in isolation all the time because in the real-worl most tasks take a lot of skills to complete. The skill I always incorporate in any assignment is writing and speaking. Most may be thinking okay, writing; however, speaking too? Yes, it is a lost art and one many students struggle with in the current society because of the over saturation of communicating on mobile devices. 

I love teaching humanities through ELA and focus a lot of my time on media literacies because it is important to me that students are educated in what is going on in society. My classroom instruction always holds debates throughout the year on touchy topics because students have an opinion, but are never asked their opinion. This year we focused on immigration, travel ban, and refugees because it was important to my students. I modeled components and we critiqued one another to get better. 

Each time a student performed in their debate they took themselves out of their comfort zone. They challenged themselves to put their claims and supported evidence out their for their peers to judge. Yes, we had some raised tones of voice and even crying, but we were learning — sometimes it gets messy.

Integrating into Other Content Areas

Orbiting Jupiter, one of our novels, had many PG13 content pieces in it that students did an amazing job displaying maturity, empathy, and compassion towards the main characters. To make it even better, the content rolled into out Family Consumer Science and Health courses. Students were giving those teachers examples from the novel on how we need to love one another because we do not always know everyone’s situation. 


Students took the concepts for the novel and were applying it to challenges in another class. Their papers discussing their analysis on situations were well beyond previous years in that particular class because we were addressing those concepts in ELA literature and our integrated health literacy components.


Teaching students to become vulnerable with their learning by making mistakes and sharing is no easy task. However, it is necessary to create content that allows individuals to create something — whether it be a physical item, technology artifact, or presentation — that displays they are learning.

I promise you my students do not remember the formative assessments that mimic our state assessment, but those moments working with peers to create and solve problems related to the curriclum.

-Brian Cook, Ed.D.-


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