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Jennifer Smith

Created 3D prototypes that improve the five senses

2019 STEM Scholar
Monticello, IL Monticello Middle School

Jennifer’s Big Idea: Jennifer implemented an engineering design project into a unit about the nervous system. Using a 3D printer, her students created a prototype that helps improve one of the senses in some way. They learned how the senses gather information and send it to the brain, and how the brain interprets the information it receives. They also learned the various reasons why sensory input may not be received by the brain, such as when someone loses their sense of hearing. The engineering design process guided students as they developed, tested and redesigned their prototypes.

Interesting Facts: One of Jennifer’s favorite lessons uses chocolate to teach about neurons in the brain. Students melt white chocolate, mix candy sprinkles into it and then pour the chocolate into brain-shaped candy molds to create three dimensional models of brains. The sprinkles represent the number of neurons in the brain. The students work together to determine how many sprinkles are in their brain model without cutting into the brain. This requires the students to examine a model and determine a plan for how to find the number of neurons are in the model. After the students make their estimate and explain how they arrived at their number, each group receives a different research study explaining how a group of scientists determined the number of neurons in the brain. This requires the students to read carefully and identify the methodology used in the study. The students summarize the information they read, share it with the rest of the class and discuss the pros and cons of each methodology. During the exercise, they learn why neurons are important, how they function and the various processes that scientists use to identify neurons in the brain. Students also practice their math and literacy skills.


In her own words: "In addition to teaching science I am also the junior varsity scholastic bowl coach and the eighth grade science club sponsor. Three years ago I created a makerspace in my school and I am also the STEM coordinator. I also participate in a variety of educational policy activities such as serving on my state education licensure board."