Technology for Good
Service Learning at Wellan
Students in most tech classes are expected to learn to use digital tools to help them academically and to learn how to become smart "digital citizens." Some programs extend learning to digital arts so that students can incorporate technology as a creative tool. Many programs also introduce coding through robotics activities to lay the groundwork for students to learn programming languages in the future. These learning goals certainly help all students succeed in their education, but at Wellan we strive to make the use of technology even more meaningful for our students.
Within the Montessori context, we see technology lessons as appropriate "practical life" works in our modern world; therefore, we strive to create strong connections between the technology work and the Montessori classroom work so that it becomes an "extension" activity. For example, second years practice geometry by building designs with triangles and hexagons in a graphic art tool; third years apply their taxonomy studies to create a catalogue of local bird species in Google slides; and fourth years answer follow-up questions from their world history lessons using Google Sheets to graph population trends through recorded history. In the Voyager middle school years, technology is often used to support learning with advanced tools such as 3D modeling cells and our upcoming interdisciplinary audio drama podcast project.
We also strive to teach students about the social consequences of technology including but not limited to the internet. In addition to lessons on topics such as online safety, copyrights, and citations, students learn about positive change as it is made possible by technology. To this end, in each year of Upper Elementary, all students take part in a Community Service project to solve a known problem using their technology skills.
In grade 4, students prepare "how-to" videos on specific technological tasks to make a Wellan "tech help library." The students choose a task within their expertise and prepare a script, record a video while demonstrating the steps on their screen, and edit the rough draft to prepare a short instructional video.
In grade 5, teams of students are given an assignment by Wellan’s Auxiliary Team to create specific camp logos for each week of the upcoming summer program. They use the engineering design thinking cycle to collect requirements, test and revise prototypes, and pitch a final product. The chosen designs are printed on small buttons to be distributed to campers each week.
In grade 6, students' projects have the biggest impact on our community. They are tasked with designing and fabricating a 3D object to solve a problem experienced by a classroom teacher or other adult in our community. In order to do this work, they have access to 5 Prusa 3D printers (for plastic fabrication) and a new Glowforge laser cutter (for cutting and engraving wood, acrylic, and other materials) on top of the resources they’ve already used to using. Many projects involve replacing missing or broken pieces of important classroom materials, which enables teachers to revive previously unusable works and save considerable replacement costs. Other projects give teachers original objects for use in their rooms. Last year, we also collaborated with Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown to create, test, and gift tactile puzzle pieces for training young students’ pre-Braille skills.
These Upper Elementary community service projects are great examples of how real-life project learning can be uniquely inspiring and gratifying. Students take responsibility for working directly with their "client" in a professional way; they practice written and oral communication skills, creative problem solving, 3D design skills, and project management; and they sense the importance of their work and the respect they are earning from adults in the community (many of whom knew the students as young children!).
When students are inspired, challenged, and empowered to use technology skills and resources in this way, the adults learn they can rely on students for this important work, more teachers are inspired to propose new creations that were previously inconceivable, and our whole community benefits.