One of my favorite parts about my work here at Studies Weekly are the opportunities I have to meet with great teachers. Everyone remembers a great teacher who had a profound effect on them. Personally, I had several teachers who taught me I could do anything. These teachers showed me that as cliche as it sounds now, nothing was out of my reach. And today, I met another teacher who is inspiring his students in the same way, and who certainly inspired me. Students at STEM designated schools throughout Utah are participating in projects, some that you might not think a grade school student is even capable of. They are studying and identifying solutions to watershed problems in India, or examining air quality in China, and discovering ways to address these issues. Mark Nance is one educator who, aside from receiving the Teacher of the Year Award at Westridge Elementary in Provo, Utah this past year, has taken STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) to the next level at his school. As STEM Coordinator at Westridge, Nance and his team of fellow educators, namely Meghan Parker (4th grade), Kimberly Sessions (4th grade), and Megan Jenkins (5th grade), have developed a unique series of projects to address problems at a local level and get students searching for solutions to problems that affect them every day. The result of this effort is a group of fourth, fifth, and sixth graders who are using newfound critical thinking skills to identify, address, and resolve issues through their own collaborative research. One recent project addressed an algae bloom in nearby Utah Lake. Students first took several samples of water from Utah Lake and examined them through microscopes. With the funds raised through a project Nance posted on DonorsChoose, he was able to purchase a 3D printer for the school. Two groups of students took advantage of this opportunity to learn 3D design to create water filter parts using the printer. Using the filters that they had helped design, students put the samples through several filtering processes. After several levels of filtering, microscopic organisms still existed in the water when examined through a microscope. Rather than let these results discourage the students, Nance and his team encouraged the students to look past the alleged weakness of the project and keep going. As Nance stated, "Just because something has weaknesses doesn't mean the process to get them thinking wasn't worth it." From there, Nance and his team of teachers gave the students the chance to see what their projects might look like in a real world application. Students presented to and learned from Scot Allen, an Engineering Technician in the Provo City Public Services Division of Public Works. Later this year, the team will take students on a field trip to the Orem Waste Water Treatment Plant, where students will see the water filtration system in action from professionals who do this work every day on a large scale. The students also plan to present at the Central Utah Water Conservancy District to talk about possible solutions to their concerns. As a final demonstration of their project, students will present at the Utah Lake Festival next summer. Nance is not just teaching his students about 3D printing technology or even water treatment processes. With every project, Nance is working with other great educators to give students opportunities to learn communication, collaboration, and presentation skills. Even more importantly, students are learning that they can effect change every day. Ultimately, students are realizing that as Nance puts it, "You don't need to wait to grow up to learn something. Through these projects, students can see the value of their learning right now. Everything can be improved. It doesn't mean you're doing it wrong; it just means you're thinking about how you can do it better." Not every project that Nance has undertaken has met with immediate resounding success. He mentioned that there was one project that they took on that was terrible for the first month. This project involved the students learning to program the sphero robotic toys to complete tasks. At first, Mr. Nance wasn't able to get the programming to work. Frustrated, he talked to his teenage niece, who helped him figure out the coding. The project was an eventual success, as students were able to code the instructions properly. But the initial results were frustrating. Pretty soon, however, robots were traversing the halls of the elementary school, delivering messages to the principal's office and navigating a maze that the students had engineered themselves. These projects are indeed extraordinary, the scope immense, but not impossible. Mark's advice to other teachers wanting to implement technology in their classroom seems particularly relevant, not just to the fourth, fifth, and sixth graders he works with side-by-side every day, but to everyone who strives for innovation: "Try something that you don't know will work." As teachers and as parents, we can teach our kids and our students to have an innovative mindset. And for thousands of students at an elementary school in Provo, Utah, they know that getting in this innovative mindset breeds extraordinary and confidence-building results. We should be teaching and demonstrating to young minds that what we often perceive as failure is nothing but an opportunity to improve on the next try.