This project serves as an example to show that no idea is too silly, and it’s okay if the idea already exists. The problem we’re seeking to solve deals with dog poop. Why not? Dog poop left on our sidewalks and in our parks causes problems in most communities, and one solution is to install pet waste stations to make it easy for people to pick up after their pets. You guessed it… “But this idea already exists!” But does it exist in your community parks and neighborhoods? Learners don’t need to start with solving society’s most complex problems, GrayVyne helps them build the foundation to tackle that later. Solving the less complex problem of pet waste in a community near the learner is a great place to start. It’s a real problem that needs to be solved in nearly every community, and any learner can do it, but they must choose to begin.
Learners might begin by going on an expedition to gather data about pet waste and search for neighborhoods or parks that might need a pet waste station. There may be pet waste stations at certain locations for certain people, but there are always opportunities to make it better at more locations for more people. If they can’t find an opportunity in their neighborhood, what about the one next door? Maybe they could identify the most heavily used areas by dog owners and run surveys or count the number of dogs at the park at certain hours of the day? And maybe they could talk to the city parks lawn maintenance employees and see if they could rank the parks in terms of poop encounters. It’s likely these folks (and the bottom of their shoes) are familiar with this problem, and your learners could interview them or shadow them for a few days to build empathy. This entire project-scoping and empathy-building process is critical for framing exactly who learners are doing this project for. Maybe they’ll want to do it for the lawn maintenance crew who struggle with this every day, or maybe they’ll do it for the elderly woman who told them of stories about how she doesn’t like to walk in the park any longer because of the pet waste problem, or maybe they’ll do it for the family they interviewed and learned of the concerns they had for their twin toddlers running and rolling in the grass. Once they build empathy, then they’ll find intrinsic motivation to follow-through because they’re doing this project to make an impact on someone else.
Next, learners could begin product research and discover that pet waste stations are generally priced from $175-$300 per waste station. After further investigation, they realize that a pet waste station is really only a metal sign post, a garbage can with bags, a bag dispenser with bags, and a sign. If they search for these individual components, the cost breakdown becomes more transparent. They can buy a new 8 foot metal sign post for $32, a custom designed metal sign for $28, a garbage can for $9, garbage bags for 8 cents each, and a plastic bag dispenser for $3. By simply buying the parts individually and assembling it together, your students could save at least $103 per waste station. The savings and learning opportunities can continue to grow from here. Learners might realize that if they buy more than one of each of these components, they’ll get a volume discount. Or maybe they can find discarded sign posts from the city and re-purpose them with a fresh coat of paint? Maybe they’ll want to use a plastic sign instead of metal to save cost? As for the plastic bag dispenser, this is an easy DIY project that learners can create out of used/empty disinfecting wipe containers (with an endless supply coming from their school), and then work with the local grocery to recycle used plastic bags to be placed in pet waste stations. Learners may wish to try and design, cut, and weld a metal trash can to the sign post instead of plastic. Allow learners to iterate on their ideas and implement a solution, any solution.
Learners will get a real-life lesson in global sourcing, supply chain management, product pricing, product design, engineering, manufacturing, and project management. They might learn how to use software tools for design like Inkscape or Canva, or project management tools such as ClickUp or Trello. They could learn skills such as welding and metal fabrication, or learn the art of the interview and working with municipal government or community foundations. Exercises like this will calibrate their sense of product value, people value, and the idea of personal contribution that will serve them their entire lives. These learning opportunities can keep branching in new directions, and it’s the facilitator’s (i.e. teacher’s) job to guide the discussion and help the learners obtain the resources needed to finish and implement this project, because they’re doing this for someone else.