This post was written by Angela Crawford, Director of Education for Project Favela in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In the USA, she is a National Board Certified teacher at Ben C. Rain High School in Mobile, Alabama, and a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow with National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions.
Here in a laboratory perched on the mountainside of Rio de Janeiro’s largest favela, the Favela da Rocinha, young engineers and budding scientists are constructing a monster. But these young Victor Frankensteins are not building a nameless creature to terrorize their “communidade.” They are participating in a global, month-long project-based learning collaboration with other young engineers in Russia, the USA, Canada, and elsewhere.
The student engineers walk mazes of alleys and narrow passageways to take classes in science, math, technology, and engineering through Project Favela, an American 501c3 providing educational programming for some of the world’s most vulnerable youth. The Project Favela team believes that with the right educational opportunities, children born into endemic poverty, disease, pollution, and occasional violence can compete with their peers in the nearby affluent neighborhoods of Leblon and Ipanama.
There is a massive opportunity gap in Brazil, and in the favelas in particular, that prevents at-risk youth from having access to innovative educational programs—especially in the fields of engineering and technology. When I learned about the Global Monster Project, I knew our participation would be a way to bring project-based learning on a global scale to our geography and STEM classes. As Director of Education for a non-profit committed to disrupt poverty through education and opportunity, it’s an honor and a privilege to search for unique educational experiences for our students.
The Monster Project is organized by Terry Smith, professor of teacher education at Radford University in Virginia, USA, and mentor in the National Geographic Educator Certification program. In the month of September, schools from around the globe are invited to sign up for a monster body part. After parts are assigned, students and teachers must agree on a common description for the part, taking into consideration that measurements must work with parts designed all over the world. In Rio, for example, the children described the tongue as long (20cm) and thin (7 cm), sparkling gold, with 20 red pointy spikes.
When all the body part descriptions are complete, each class builds its own monster by working with the resources they have available. While some schools have ample access to construction material, the Project Favela students and their teachers upcycle discarded materials. Cardboard, string, and plastic become essential body parts for their monster. This experience provides students with a deeper global awareness, new friendships, and invaluable problem solving practice in STEM fields.
After Project Favela’s monster (nicknamed “Amigo”) came to life last year, the students began brainstorming ways he could improve their “communidade.” The first community need our students addressed was architectural. Visitors to the favela are often stunned by the architectural ingenuity on display. I’m consistently awed by the residents’ organic approach to engineering needs. But because community construction occurs without organized oversight, many of our children’s homes are potential hazards during landslides in the rainy season. The students at Project Favela are well aware of this hazard. They wrote, “Amigo is so strong he could help build better houses for everybody.”
The success of the Monster Project inspired us to initiate an after-school maker-space called Fazedores (do-ers in Portuguese) where students learn basic engineering skills necessary for successful living in their community.
I invite you to join us in the global Monster Project this year! Interested teachers can find more information here. Sign up begins on September 12 and lasts until all body parts have been assigned. Construction runs through October and ends on Halloween.