Turning Problems Into Solutions: Frick Environmental Charter School Collaboration


Have you ever wanted to make something work better? The first graders at Frick Environmental Charter School did; from December to February, they identified problems in their classrooms and worked to invent solutions for those problems. MAKESHOP Teaching Artists worked with the first graders throughout their process via FaceTime chats, in-class sessions, and a field trip that brought the students into our workshop. In the end, the students came up with three functional prototypes: Bathroom Bulb, Erasinator, and The Officer.

Coming up with an invention takes a lot of thinking, patience, and time. First, the students thought about problems in their school community and narrowed down the list based on what was feasible (a new vocabulary word for the class that means realistic, or easy to do) to solve. Among the three first grade classes, they decided to work on one problem each: the problem of forgetting to turn the open/closed bathroom sign over when they go in and out of the bathroom; the problem of having a hard time erasing mini-white boards quickly and completely; and the problem of preventing “private offices” (folders that stand up to create a barrier for privacy while taking tests) from falling down.

Next, the students decided to brainstorm ideas to solve their problems. This meant that they had to look at other inventions in the world around them to get ideas about their own inventions. They also talked to people who have had a lot of experience working with machines or solving problems. Once they gathered enough information about their problem, they could decide whether the solutions they were brainstorming were realistic. Some ideas were really cool, but not very feasible; solutions that involved robot arms, sensors, and conveyer belts did not seem realistic for the classroom environment, so the students moved on to simpler solutions.

After the brainstorm process was complete, the students could start to visualize their solutions by making a model, or a mini-test version of their invention. Then, they began working on building the prototypes:

Bathroom Bulb logo

The Bathroom Bulb logo

  • The class who worked on the problem of the bathroom sign developed the Bathroom Bulb, which is a red light bulb that is attached to the wall above the bathroom door. The chain to turn the light on and off is attached to the door, so when someone opens the door to go inside the bathroom, the light turns on, and when they leave, the light turns off.



The Erasinator logo

  • The Erasinator group came up with pieces that could attach to their mini-white boards so that two erasers could erase the whole white board at once by sliding them up and down on wires. The students used Gorilla Glue to connect two erasers and hot glued their mini-white board to wood that created more room for the erasers to move on the wires.



The Officer logo

  • Creating an improved private office meant starting from scratch, so the students used all new materials to make a bigger private office with more features. The Officer is made out of corrugated plastic that folds in two places, a fabric cover on top for extra privacy, sticky cord on the bottom to stop it from falling over, and fabric pockets on the inside to hold pencils and erasers.


When the students visited MAKESHOP, we worked on laser cutting logos for the three inventions, as well as practicing skills like sawing, sanding, and sewing that would improve their projects. The students drew their own logos and MAKESHOP Teaching Artists turned them into files the laser cutter could understand and cut into cardboard and wood.

The end result was great: the students shared their process and prototypes with their parents at their own Invention Fair. Since prototypes are works in progress, their inventions can still be even better, and the students learned that it can take a lot of tries before an inventor gets something to work the way they want it to.

If you’d like to make your own version of the students’ prototypes, you can check out their step-by-step instructions on Instructables.com:

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