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Randolph Summer Academy Students Design Solutions to Combat COVID-19


Life as we know it has changed as a result of the pandemic. As we continue to adjust to this new normal, we must seek solutions to cope with the challenges of this crisis. For students particularly, it’s important that they explore their own ideas that can help improve the quality of their daily lives. Under the direction of Ironia Elementary 1st Grade Teacher Trish Bourke and Fernbrook Elementary 2nd Grade Teacher Reed McMurray, rising 1st and 2nd grade students districtwide were tasked with solving real world problems by coming up with creative solutions for learning and playing during the pandemic. Yesterday, the students in the program gave a virtual presentation of their solutions to Superintendent Jennifer Fano, Director of Elementary Education Danielle Soldivieri, Director of Secondary Education Jonathan Olsen, Fernbrook Elementary Principal Michelle Bernal, Board of Education President Tammy MacKay and Randolph Township Mayor Christine Carey.


Students were tasked with devising solutions for learning and playing while following CDC recommended safety guidelines. To gain a better understanding of disease prevention such as why people wear masks, wash their hands frequently and socially distance themselves, the students learned how germs spread. They then used the engineering design process (ask, imagine, plan, create, improve) to develop their solutions.


After following this process, the students wanted to determine if they could make a better mask that kids may be more comfortable in. They learned from experts in town like Fernbrook Elementary student Jillian Jones who had direct experience making masks. The students even connected on a video call with Randolph Middle School Paraprofessional Ruthann Dezenzo who has made over 1,000 masks to give to local hospitals and essential workers. After conducting their research, they evaluated problems with the masks they had used before and came up with their own prototypes. One of the ideas was to design a mask that had a strap that could be placed behind the head rather than looped around the ears. The students came up with this idea so they would be able to pull their mask down when not in use without losing it.


Next, the students wanted to see if they could create a tool that would help kids remember how to stay 6 feet apart. They learned about measurement while also thinking about the classroom spaces themselves. Center Grove Elementary rising 2nd grade student Anjali Ramanathan designed a tool, The 6 Feet Apart-Er, made out of popsicle sticks to help maintain social distancing. Others created contraptions where poles were attached to an apparatus on the body to prevent other students from coming closer than the recommended 6 feet.


Finally, the students wanted to identify safe ways they could play. They spoke with educational experts, Instructional Coaches Whitney Rafferty and Laurie Pandorf, on the value of play, and they evaluated games they already play to see if they could be redesigned. The students also created their own games which included socially distant hop scotch and new types of card games.


“When we started planning the process with the kids, we wanted them to be engaged with experts that actually did this work at the beginning of the pandemic. It was really nice that we had so many local people that could serve as inspiration,” Ms. Bourke said. “It was really cool for the students to see other children and people in our town already making a difference. In addition, it was amazing to get to see how involved the students were in these processes. When they started evaluating masks as an example, they really dove into the process looking at masks around their homes analyzing all of the different styles and talking about what’s good about them - such as snug fit or being too loose. The students thought really hard about what it would be like to have to wear a mask for a long period of time and they came up with some great ideas. Through every phase and experiment the students did, they were so engaged and this was amazing to see.”


Ms. McMurray added, "As educators it is critical for us to provide students with authentic learning experiences that they are engaged in. In this summer course they did just that, in two short weeks. Students got to go through the design process to create prototypes that will help them return to school and play with friends safely. While learning about the why behind why we need to wear masks and socially distance, there were important core content standards we taught to students. Watching children being a part of the learning process and taking control is one of the best joys of being an educator. This summer course taught me that even in a short time, teaching through real life experiences is always rewarding for all parties."


Congratulations Anna Olivia Adams, Aanvi Anupam, Carlo Govoni, James Parkinson, Skylar Podell, Addison Thomas, Justian Au-Yeung, Matthew Garcia, Anjali Ramanathan, Bela Shah, Maheep Singh, and Haocheng Tong for all of your hard work during this summer enrichment course. All of your ideas will be put to good use and help the district as we prepare to reopen our school buildings. We are appreciative to Ms. Bourke and Ms. McMurray for facilitating this authentic learning opportunity for students to participate in solving real world issues.