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Four Students Take on E-Waste with Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship


STEM and Problem-Based Learning (PBL) have been at the heart of everything we do at MindSpark Learning. Our core values, mindsets, and the way we approach our work both internally and externally are laden with the core components of problem-based learning. We believe in failing fast and pivoting, making iterations on the fly, developing unique solutions to radical problems, having a “yes and” and a beginner’s mindset, and giving kids lofty problems to solve (you will be surprised at what they can accomplish).  


Exemplary STEM education operates with an infinite mindset marked by ecosystems that:  


  • Iteratively solve authentic, open-ended problems driven by economic needs. 

  • Proactively seek opportunities to integrate industry-grade tools, technology, and equipment into learning experiences. 

  • Innately cultivate enduring occupational identities that enable all students to feel connected to their learning and career decision making processes. 

  • Relentlessly promote educators who contextualize omnidirectional learning.  

  • Consistently nurture ongoing, mutually beneficial relationships with industry and community partners.   


In 2019, we began partnering with The Samsung Solve for Tomorrow (SSFT) program which is a STEM competition that challenges secondary school students to solve community problems using STEM. Each summer, we co-host the Samsung Teacher Academy to upskill educators across the country in STEM and Problem-Based Learning.  In 2021, SSFT powered by MindSpark Learning hosted its third annual Teacher Academy and educators were exposed to the nationwide problem of e-waste. Educators were given the context: 


According to a United Nations report, more than 53 million tons of e-waste was generated worldwide in 2019 - over 9 million tons more than five years earlier. Currently, less than a quarter of all U.S. electronic waste is recycled, according to a United Nations estimate. The rest is incinerated or ends up in landfills. That’s bad news, as e-waste can contain harmful materials like mercury and beryllium that pose environmental risks. (from: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-cornwall-57406136, https://time.com/5594380/world-electronic-waste-problem/).  


Educators were challenged to come up with a way to sustainably consume technology so that their e-waste does not continue to negatively impact our planet. This is an example of an authentic PBL that might be brought to students to solve. Educators had the opportunity to learn about the process through hands-on experiences during Samsung’s Teacher Academy.  


Covey Denton is an educator serving more than 1000 rural students annually at Sallie B Howard School of the Arts in North Carolina (NC). She was part of our Teacher Academy and took her knowledge around e-waste back to her classroom and her dinner table. Little did Covey know that it would turn into a PBL for her own kids. “When my son heard that the Teacher Academy was taking the cohort on a virtual field trip to a recycling facility, he along with my two daughters wanted to join. They were shocked by the staggering amount of e-waste created each year and it propelled them to take action!” Covey stated.   


After learning more about the issue, Elijah Denton (15-years-old), Lydia Denton (13-years-old), and Bethany Denton (11-years-old) told their mom (Covey), “We’ve got to do something to fix e-waste. Maybe we can’t fix the whole problem, but I think we can make a small difference.”  



 (From left): Bethany Denton, Elijah Denton, and Lydia Denton were inspired to create ReGame, Inc. from their mother’s time at Samsung’s Teacher Academy and subsequently learning about the global issue of e-waste. 


It was Elijah’s idea to narrow down this massive  problem by honing in on recycling and reusing gaming systems. ReGame Inc., a nonprofit founded by Covey’s children, mitigates environmental impacts by refurbishing pre-owned gaming systems, tablets, games, and controllers. ReGame donates these devices to charities, group homes, foster care families, senior centers, and children’s hospitals free of charge. ReGame provides a sustainable way for those in underserved and underrepresented communities to engage, play, and learn with technology that they may not otherwise have had access to at home or school. 

 

“Whether it’s a classroom conflict or the climate crisis, I ask my children and my students, ‘What can we do to make it better tomorrow than it is today?’ That’s why STEM is so important. We identify the problem and devise a plan for solving it by reframing it, changing our behavior related to it, or even inventing something to resolve it,” shared Covey.   


Learn more about PBL with MindSpark here.

 

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