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Students at Hilton Head Island Elementary Learn to “Train their Brains”

How do you take a seemingly “old fashioned” mode of transportation and incorporate it with modern day technology to create a hands-on learning experience for students? That’s exactly what Technology teacher, Jennifer Friend-Kerr, set out to do! Her “Train”ing the Brain project made possible by an Innovative Teacher grant from the Foundation funded through the generosity of the Bargain Box of Hilton Head Island did just that. The project was able to impact over 500 students in first through fifth grade at Hilton Head Island Elementary School for the Creative Arts this past school year. It was a cross-curricular project involving Social Studies, English Language Arts, Math, and Computer Science that was able to enhance the students’ skills of critical thinking, collaboration, public speaking, communication, technology and research.

The purpose of the project was to give students the opportunity to develop engineering and design skills through building and coding at multiple levels of difficulty using the “unplugged” (no computer) tactile color-coded tile system before coding on a device. Through the use of the Intelino Smart Train System, students had the opportunity to: Ask, Imagine, Plan, Create, Test, and Improve as they designed communities.

Before using the Train System, students were asked to research the history of trains and how they impacted the economy in the 1800’s. They compared the differences in transportation then to present day methods.

In the initial “introduction to trains” session, students learned how to code and manipulate the Intelino Smart Train System. During the second session, students planned and designed communities that would be accessed by a train to help the economy prosper based on their research of trains. They considered the terrain of the community and how it would be feasible to build train tracks to make the community flow. After planning the community, students used the Intelino Smart Train kits to construct the train and map out the geographic locations that the train would travel.

Through the multi-staged project, students developed communication, collaboration and inquiry skills when planning, designing and researching communities for trains to travel. Like the travels of the pioneers during Westward Expansion studied in Social Studies, they analyzed the best way to create a railway system out west.

The color-coded tiles were placed so that the train moved in the correct direction of a destination. Following the ‘unplugged’ coding with color tiles, students were then challenged to code the train using ‘block’ coding on their devices. Students tested out both coding methods and compared the two types of coding - color-coded versus ‘block’ coding on devices.

One of the highlights of the project according to Jennifer was witnessing the students’ collaboration when they were designing the tracks and communities for their train to run. In addition, they used the engineering and design process to build communities using Keva Planks. They made tunnels, train stations, roads and “general” stores - coding the train to utilize these different structures.

“It was extremely gratifying to see the different structures and train designs students came up with based on their thorough planning,” says Jennifer. “The grant was exactly what I had hoped.”

Students were assessed on their research, planning, building and coding that matched their community design. Jennifer was extremely happy with the overall results based on the rubric she created to assess. Students were excited about the smart train and took it to a whole new level with the building.

“They now have a greater understanding of why pioneers traveled out west and how the trains helped them to carry their cargo,” says Jennifer. “They learned a lot about the evolution of trains which was a huge part of the research component.”

And a huge bonus is that the materials purchased for this project are 100% reusable for years to come!

As the South Carolina Career and College Ready Standards promote, learning in the classroom needs to be real world, authentic and collaborative. And this project checked all those boxes and more helping to develop intercommunication and engineering skills needed in the future job market. As a result of the many elements of this innovative project and the support of community organizations like the Bargain Box of Hilton Head Island, these students are moving “full speed ahead” in their education!


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