Student Solutions to Global Problems: STEM Education in South Carolina

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When students constantly check their phones in class, high school teachers may suspect the worst--cheating, gossip, cyber-bullying. But not Kirstin Bullington, a science, engineering, and computer science teacher at W.J. Keenan High School in Columbia, South Carolina; she genuinely gets excited when she sees phones out.

Bullington and her classrooms are using science and technology to take the world's problems head-on in areas ranging from biodiversity to alternative energies. "Two of my computer science students created an app to measure carbon sequestration (the long-term storage of carbon dioxide) based on the trees planted," Bullington proudly boasts. "And another student developed an open-source, low-cost Braille printer," she adds. "I'm constantly amazed at the creativity of my students."

Bullington touts the value of taking a broad world view for whatever issues engage her students. "Engineering challenges, including environmental issues, have to be studied from a global perspective if we intend to develop feasible solutions," she says.

She stresses how a global perspective is valuable, not only for solving problems, but for the educational experience itself.

"Building global competencies--investigating the world, recognizing multiple perspectives, communicating with diverse audiences, and taking action within the context of STEM education just makes sense to me," she says. "The global perspective provides a relevant and engaging framework to learn course content, and the focus on the end product in engineering allows for a tangible measurement of student growth."

How has she learned to broaden her teaching methods to incorporate this?

"I would credit Teachers for Global Classrooms for expanding my understanding of what global education involves, and for helping me expand the opportunities I can provide for my students within STEM," she says. "Before TGC, my classes were doing project-based learning, but I hadn't really focused on the impact of student choice in the taking-action domain of global competencies."

Bullington's classes are currently cooperating virtually with two schools in Japan to share carbon sequestration and water quality studies and peer review each other's findings. She is also excited about her upcoming international field experience to sub-Saharan Africa as a part of TGC and intends to direct her students' future projects to the needs of developing countries in Africa upon her return.

She says it is not just what she is teaching her students that is important, but what she is learning as well.

"I think all too often, we dismiss the idealism of youth," she says. "We do not give them enough opportunities in traditional education settings to explore their own interests and to design solutions. I am learning to be more responsive to their ideas while using course content to stretch their understanding of the world--as well as mine."