Visa Thiagarajan, Computer Science Teacher

Teaching Global Problem Solvers: The Series (GPS: The Series) is an easy, fun way to keep students engaged in STEM and teach them how to use technology to solve real-world problems while they are learning at home. And with all 14 episodes of the two-season series available online, it’s perfectly designed to teach remotely.

To help you get started, seasoned computer science teacher Visa Thiagarajan shares a few tips for teaching GPS: The Series online. Visa has been teaching GPS: The Series for two years with her 9th grade class at KIPP Navigate College Prep in San Jose, CA.


1. Play videos and help students select a global problem.

Once you have played all seven of the 3-4 minute videos for either Season 1 or Season 2, tell your students they will be developing a solution for a portion of a global problem of their choice. It’s common for students to get stuck at this phase, so if needed help them brainstorm a list of appropriate problems and solutions. Another option is to direct them to a list of problems and ask them to pick one part of a problem to develop a solution around (otherwise it’s way too overwhelming), for example an electronic sensor that helps detect food spoilage.

Click here to watch the first episode of GPS: The Series

2. Ask students to apply a data sensor to the problem.

Next, ask your students to evaluate where a data sensor can be applied in their aspect of the problem. This is great way for them to learn about the Internet of Things that has become so prevalent in our world. According to the Adafruit Make It Sense guide, “Sensing the world around us is central to what we do… Be it the weather or detecting specific things like light, sound, etc., we always want to know.” Your students may not have sensors available at home so the playground at makecode.adafruit.com allows them to virtually experiment with different sensors using the Make It Sense guide (following the provided MakeCode examples). It may also be helpful to have them watch short videos about accelerometer, light sensor, infrared communication, and microphone sensors before they begin.

Images from Adafruit

3. Challenge students to create a prototype of their solution.

Finally, ask your students to develop a prototype of a solution that helps address a specific aspect of their global problem, incorporating their chosen sensor and using materials readily available at home (copy paper, cardboard, tape, crayons, etc.). The prototype can be a handwritten or computer drawing, or a physical prototype constructed out of materials commonly found in the home such as cardboard, paper, sticks or straws. Encourage your students to get creative!

Prototypes from middle school students in Phoenix Arizona

4. Things to consider when evaluating your students’ prototypes.

When it comes time to evaluate your students’ prototypes, a key thing to remember is that it doesn’t have to completely solve the problem. What is important is that it can be iterated and improved upon. Some other key considerations include:

  • Does it make good use of the sensors?
  • Are the sensors gathering data about the problem?
  • Can the sensor outputs inform an action step?


To learn more about Global Problem Solvers: The Series, visit gpstheseries.com.



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