LAND O' LAKES — Six-year-old Allison Prianos rolled her way onto the stage in a shiny red wheelchair, curls spilling down her neck. She paused for a moment in front of a large screen. Then she stood up, signaling the start her very first "Design Talk" at Sanders Memorial Elementary School.
It was dress rehearsal — a time to get the feel of the stage and the sound of her own voice over a microphone, as well as helpful hints and encouragement. That evening, the cafetorium would be filled with friends, family and faculty.
The school's Design on Display program, held before spring break, was meant to highlight student design projects, as well as student artwork and performances by student musicians. Sanders is a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics) magnet school.
Inspired by the nationally popular TED Talks (technology, entertainment and design) the student Design Talks were part of the mix.
Allison doesn't have a physical disability, but she and her first-grade classmates know kids and adults who do. They were inspired, Allison said, by players on a wheelchair basketball team who gave a presentation at her school.
That's why they voted to take on a design project called "Play Has No Limits."
It began with a challenge to use a design process, as well as compassion, to address a problem in their community. It culminated with first-graders creating and developing games for children with disabilities.
The step-by-step process required students to: "formulate," by asking what the problem is and how they can help; "explore," by doing research; "ideate," or brainstorm ideas; "sift," or weed through those ideas — even the silly ones — to see what works best; "simulate," or put the idea into action; and "advocate," or share their solution.
Other projects included: a peer-reading program; an outreach program to help the elderly battle depression; a before- and after-school chess club to promote problem solving skills and enhance academics; a Special Olympics Village featuring STEAM activities designed by students; and a magnetic surfboard that will deflect hungry sharks and attach to the roof of a car after the ride.
Mikayla Thirkill designed the magnetic surfboard and used a three-dimensional printer to create a miniature prototype. She is exploring the patent process for it with her teacher. She said she found inspiration in watching a TED Talk by William Kamkwamba, author of The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind.
"He talked like he was just talking to his family — I was going for that," Mikayla said.
Marielle Thomas, 9, collaborated with fellow third-graders for the outreach project, "The Kids and the Elderly." Her first practice Design Talk was for residents of Angels Senior Living at Connerton Court, whom the students had engaged by making cards and writing poems.
"It was really nice — I saw them smiling back at me," Marielle said.
Perhaps the students already are changing the world a bit, said principal Jason Petry.
"They really take this seriously. They are helping out the community and realizing that your passion could be someone else's compassion," Petry said. His school's five "C's" philosophy toward successful academics includes communication, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking and compassion.
"Whether they are above-average, average and even below-level students doing this," Petry said. "You just give the kids the opportunity and just watch them go."
Contact Michele Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @MicheleMiller52