If Sunrise Elementary School fifth-graders have their way, the world's oceans someday will be filled with mechanical sea turtles, clams and octopi, all scavenging for trash.
Students in Jessica Boland's class used an online program paired with a 3D printer to design the devices. Boland is now in the process of printing tiny three-dimensional models of each device so students can get a better idea if their ideas are viable.
The assignment was the result of a partnership between Boland's class and West Albany High School teacher Matt Boase, who teaches career and technical education classes, including photography and video production.
Boase is working on his administrative credentials and was looking for some elementary-level experience. Principal Bob Daugherty introduced him to Boland, and the two teachers decided to work together on a lesson Boase could then observe.
Boase loaned the class one of West Albany's 3D printers and Boland found a national contest that challenges young engineers to design an ocean pollution cleanup device that's camouflaged as a part of the environment.
Working in pairs, Sunrise students researched ocean cleanup ideas and used a free online program called TinkerCAD to design their devices. On Thursday, teams began presenting the results of their work in front of the rest of the class. Printing models of the devices, which also began Thursday, is the final step.
Gabriela Diaz and Kayleen Flores, both 11, designed a device with a pointed nose that mimics the movements of a dolphin. A rolling series of fins pushes trash through pipes that feed the dolphin's "head," which can then be removed and emptied.
Both girls are eagerly awaiting the printout of their model, which they said made the assignment far more interesting than just sketching something out on paper. "That way, we could see how we made it; how it would look in our heads," Gabriela explained. "On paper, you could just explain."
Brianna Walling, 10, and her partner, Katie Young, designed a pollution trap meant to look like a giant sea star.
The assignment was important because ocean cleanup is necessary, Brianna said. "The ocean is a place for life. It's not a garbage can."
The assignment combined reading, writing and interpretation with public speaking, teamwork, engineering and computer-aided drafting and design: all skills a 21st-century student may need for a future career, Boland said.
Using the new technology is the best part, she said: "It's not just two-dimensional anymore. It's an actual object. Does this work? Does this not work? How would I design this differently?"
"For me," Boase said, "what's been really cool and impressive is how capable these kids are."
And, Boland added, the experience has, quite literally, "brought a new dimension into the room."