Two girls and a boy giving a thumbs up to camera


At some point in almost any piece of literature, characters face an obstacle or problem. For fifth graders at Colonial Elementary, this challenge is a topic they've often discussed in small groups known as literature circles. However, for the culminating project in their Perseverance Unit, the children instead pulled together in their small groups to help the characters work through their struggles — by making inventions.

"You were looking for a problem to solve," said fifth grader Adriana Albizu about how they prepared for the project while reading the book, No Talking. "Our project is the Talkinator. It helps the character Dave. Dave challenges this girl Lynsey in a competition for not talking. So you type in a word, and it'll say it out loud. It'll help Dave so he's not talking but still can communicate."

Using technology to create inventions that will help literary characters

The groups made prototypes of their inventions using found objects, computer control devices called Makey Makey, as well as power sources, connectors, buzzers, lights and fans from kits made by LittleBits. These students have been using the electronic components to create circuits and solve problems in their Technology specialist classes for years, but this was the first time the students used circuitry in English Language Arts.  

For children sitting on the floor with electronic components


"My favorite part was that we got to be creative and just let our minds do cool stuff with our inventions," added Adriana.

Noah Gamble-Steinitz and the other students on his team used a bottle, marbles and the electronics to help characters from the book, The Upstairs Room.

"We're making an alarm system so Annie and Sini would know when the Germans were coming, because the Nazis were invading their town," said Noah. "It makes us get into the story more and really understand what situation they're in."

Teaching persistence 

In addition to helping the students explore the books they read more in depth, the project also highlights the idea of perseverance and looking for ways to overcome obstacles that they may have in their own lives.

"There's so much literature out there that has that theme in it, so they were able to easily select a character that needed to persevere in some way or that needed some help with a struggle," said Teacher Niki Rose, who helped write the curriculum for the Perseverance Unit. "Anyone can relate to that topic. The kids just really got into it. They really connected with that theme."

The inventions are only part of the culminating project in the Perseverance Unit. The students will also write opinion pieces about what the invention could mean for the characters.

Part of Colonial's STEAM culture

Using technology to help literature characters solve problems is an example of how the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) culture permeates all subjects areas in the Colonial School District. The students create prototypes and find solutions using technology like an engineer, while gaining a deeper understanding of what they read for their English Language Arts class.