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Through My Window Going Global

Aug 29, 2017 | By: Isabel Huff

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Note:  After a long absence, the Through My Window team is back to blogging. Enjoy this post by Yamanda, a former Through My Window instructional designer who now lives in Denmark.

Through My Window went across the Atlantic Ocean in June for a week long summer program at Copenhagen International School, Denmark. I led a course from 9:30-3:30 for 6 students ages 12-16 titled Exploring Engineering Design & Artificial Intelligence with Through My Window.

I tailored Through My Window’s three components—book, learning adventures, and enrichment activities—to fit the needs and interests of my students.

We dedicated a couple of hours a day to listening to the Talk to Me audiobook. Using the audiobook was a great way for ESL students (half of the group) to follow along.  We paused every couple of chapters to review what happened in the story and talk about the discussion questions in the Through My Window novel guide.  The questions helped us explore how aspects of engineering design and artificial intelligence (AI) are present in the novel. We also made character profiles, and students really connected with the characters, especially Rio and Catalina. When we finished the novel, their first question was: Where can I buy the second book?!

Students were really engaged by the online learning adventures as well.  In the Rio’s Brain adventure, students shared their ideas with each other in their online journals, getting a chance to do some knowledge building and improve their collective understanding of artificial intelligence.

We also used the offline enrichment activities.  Within the AI’s the Limit! activity, the question that inspired the most discussion was whether or not iPhones could think. This question actually turned into a student-led debate! Students’ opinions were split, and we ended up taking the afternoon to set up a debate.  They had the opportunity to research examples and arguments to support their ideas. This was a great example of how Through My Window could be tweaked for older students.

The most exciting part of the week for my students was using what they learned about the design cycle and AI to come up with their very own animal-inspired robots.  Using animals as inspiration integrated another important engineering idea—biomimicry. This was originally a 55-min project in the Through My Window lesson plans, but students were so engaged with their ideas, we decided to make it a 3-day project where they would pick an animal and explore how its characteristics could help people. After choosing an animal, they went through the steps of the design cycle to come up with a design and prototype for an animal-inspired robot. The results were terrific! From a Beaver-Bot whose primary function is to efficiently build less expensive homes for neighborhoods in need to a Narwhal Horn Robot whose aim is to gather information on changes in temperature in unattainable parts of oceans.

Dedicating an entire week to Through My Window was a really great way for students to gain hands-on experience with a variety engineering topics through multiple media and activities. Our class discussions and knowledge building exercises developed into incredible conversations where students had the chance to showcase and experience deep and meaningful learning. It was also a great experience for me as a teacher, having a good balance between structure and flexibility of the curriculum. Students couldn't believe the week was over on the last day, and hoped they had more time and materials to actually build their robot prototypes. Although it only lasted a week, this course gave students the chance to explore engineering and discover STEM fields in a fun and meaningful way.

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Yamanda worked on Through My Window during her time as a Smith College undergraduate.  She is now in her final year of pursuing an MA in Anthropology of Education and Globalisation at the Danish School of Education, Aarhus University in Copenhagen, Denmark.  As part of earning her degree, Yamanda is doing fieldwork at the Microsoft Development Center Copenhagen, working with the communications team and evaluating their initiatives to inspire high school girls to pursue careers in STEM.

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This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Nos. 1223868 and 1223460.  Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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