Drought in Africa inspires students to invent smart irrigation system using calculator, development board

The worst drought to hit southern Africa in 35 years is only expected to worsen this year. 

Students in southern Africa are struggling to focus in class and, in some cases, unable to participate in sports. At Chidyamakondo high school in southern Zimbabwe, some of the reigning championship football teams’ best players have dropped out of school to help their families find food[i].

Nearly 10,000 miles away, students at Sachse High School near Dallas worked hand-in-hand with TI mentors on a potential solution to the drought ― a programmable smart water irrigation pump that could foster the growth of crops during a drought, allowing African students to return to school educations and eventually get back to normal life. Not only does the project help solve a real-world problem, but it offers Sachse students a unique opportunity to combine science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) into a single project with great impact.

From the classroom to the real-world 

Sachse classroomThe story begins with TI STEM Innovation manager Fred Fotsch. A 28-year teaching veteran, Fred knows firsthand that students are motivated by real-world experiences and now uses his experience to design curriculum using TI products.

“When I design lessons for the classroom, I like for them to have a real-world application,” Fred said. “I like them to be emotionally engaging and have a storyline so when students question, ‘Why do I need to know this,’ they have an answer. I can say, ‘Look, this is a real problem and these are real people.’ If you can find something that relates to a students’ world, then all the better.”

After reading about the drought in Africa in an article in The Guardian, Fred knew that while high school students in the states might not understand the pressing reality of a drought, they can empathize with being unable to attend school and play sports with their friends. It was the perfect making of not only a good lesson plan, but an opportunity to introduce students to hands-on STEM learning through real-world problem solving.

Changing the game

Coincidentally, Fred’s colleagues, Dave Santucci and Harshal S. Chhaya, were seeking to partner with local schools and educators to develop coding groups for students, using the brand-new TI-Innovator™ Hub, a classroom tool that introduces students to coding and engineering design to prepare them for the jobs of the future. In just 10 minutes of lessons, students are introduced to coding and programming.