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Innovation brought to life

Students share their long-term projects

While wearing a brown, shaggy beard, third-grader Mia Fisher did her best impression of a Greek scientist also known as a mathematician, physicist, engineer, inventor and astronomer.

“I am Archimedes,” said Mia, during the PEAKS program share night for parents and others at Discovery Elementary.

Fifth-grader Alpha Kabda demonstrates the flashlight as part of his project ‘Light and Power’

Mia and her classmates’ wax museum projects  brought innovators to life. “He was a Greek scientist who invented the Archimedes principle and also discovered hydrogen and a way to measure objects before we had scales. I picked him because my passion is Greek mythology and I like to read about it.”

Mia said her favorite subject is self-selected reading.

“I do like to read a lot,” admitted Mia, who just started PEAKS this year. The comprehensive third-through-eighth-grade gifted and talented program, stands for Parents, Educators and Kids = Success.

The share night involved third, fourth and fifth graders showing off their long-term projects; which along with the wax museum of famous folks, covered the innovative history of everything from drones and phones to light bulbs, robotic and 3-D printing.

“All the students are focused on innovation,” said Amanda Barbour, gifted and talented coordinator and fifth grade PEAKS teacher at Discovery. “We are committed to providing students with real-world learning opportunities through project-based learning and field experiences. Our goal is to create student-centered experiences in the most current fields of learning and also prepare them for the vital professions of the future.”

Ottawa County Deputy Larissa Jones listens to her nephew, fifth-grader Owen VanderVeen, explain how a body camera works at his display about police gear

Innovating Thinking

Fourth-graders chose topics showing innovation.

“Their project required them to write business letters to experts in their field to help support their research and obtain artifacts to display,” said Barbour, whose students had a tri-fold board and artifacts on display.

Fourth-grader Shane Nshime, whose project was titled “3-D Printing, Innovation in Print,” said he wanted people to know all the different things about printing.

“I picked this topic because it’s very new, only 40 years old, very interesting and has a vivid past,” said Shane, who learned about Hailey Dawson, 9 , who has a 3-D printed hand and was the first person to throw out the ceremonial first pitch in all 30 Major League Baseball stadiums.

Shane said he likes researching interesting topics.

“I think it helps me learn faster and learn more. It prepares me for the future.”

Fourth grade PEAKS teacher Joe Westra said his students emphasize innovation.

“My fourth grade kids spend a lot of time learning about what drives innovation,” said Westra, who is in his 14th year teaching. “Quite often an innovation comes from a need or a want or a problem.”

Third-grader McKenna Joseph describes the life of Thomas Edison. Her favorite part of the project was figuring out the costume

Prototype Pros

Barbour said fifth graders studied innovation as well, but then had to become innovative by creating a prototype.

“These students had to write business letters, obtain a mentor in their field of study, interview their mentor, use the engineering design process to create a prototype and create a website,” Barbour continued.

Fifth grader Alpha Kabba said he chose the topic of lighting and power outages because it has ample information and sources. His mentor was Scott Jones, director of product management at Pelican Products, a California-based company that designs and manufactures portable lighting systems, temperature-controlled packaging and protective cases.

“Talking to him was fun,” Alpha said. “We had to send letters to 15 companies, and I did a handwritten letter so he’d know I put the work into it.

Third-grader Mia Fisher explains the journey of Archimedes

“I think this program has a lot of opportunities. When I get older and want to get a job and tell people I did something like this. I think it would increase my chances of getting a good job.”

Alpha’s prototype is a double-sided flashlight with a solar panel. If one side stops working, the solar panel distributes the energy to power the other side.

Discovery principal Deb McNally said the goal in PEAKS is for the children to learn through community experience, by studying big picture themes and using a curriculum that allows deep and accelerated faster study.

“It’s not just doing a report, but it’s connecting the world and pieces and people and ideas,” McNally explained. “These are all kids that got the information quickly.”

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Cris Greer
Cris Greer
For more than three decades, Cris Greer has been a wordsmith, working in the fields of journalism, advertising and marketing. Much of the past decade, he helped grow the MLive Statewide High School Sports desk as a supervisor, editor and reporter, which included eight newspapers in Michigan and mlive.com. Cris also was a freelancer for The Grand Rapids Press, The Advance and On the Town magazine for many years. A good portion of his early career was spent building and managing the copywriting team in the advertising department at Meijer, Inc., where he oversaw copywriting for print ads, mailers, brochures, signage, several dozen in-house magazines per year and much more.


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