Creating a Talking Water Fountain


While the conservation of water remains an extremely high priority topic worldwide, it is even more important in a country like India – where water scarcity is a real and reoccurring threat. The ‘Talking Water Fountain’ project was created a year ago, and is something that resonated with a large part of our community. I wrote this article for the Newsletter in order to share the project with more constituents, I hope you enjoy!


At Oberoi International School, like every IB school, a crucial component of our curriculum is “action”. Some might even go so far as to say that “action” is the most important facet of what we do as educators; since it has the power to transform learning from something self-contained into something much more meaningful.

With that being said, this entire project began with Grade 1’s most recent unit, which focused on sharing the planet – specifically, with how our habits can have an impact on Earth’s resources. Students spent six weeks learning, exploring, and sharing how every action regardless of size or scope can impact our world. The children identified a specific topic that they wanted to research in depth, such as air pollution, water pollution, land pollution, or deforestation; and then were responsible for researching and sharing their findings with their peers.

While the unit progressed, the teachers spearheaded an initiative called the “Action Corner”; which was a physical space where first graders were able to bring in various unused or recycled materials to be used for various projects. As the weeks passed, the corner became a home to a veritable treasure trove of trinkets and discarded knick-knacks as students worked on individual and group projects turning trash into something entirely different.

It was around this time that the idea of the “Talking Water Fountain” began to take shape. While students were searching for various ways that they could create meaningful action, I happened to receive a new device that would redefine the way we approach student ingenuity.

 

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Water Fountain Before Being Transformed

 

The device was called MakeyMakey, and it is called the “Invention Kit for Everyone”. It’s essentially a circuit board that allows you to map keyboard input to anything that can conduct electricity – allowing you to create a controller capable of pressing multiple keys out of anything from a banana to another human being. Anything that can complete a ‘circuit’ can function as input for a computer.

 

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Early Prototypes

 

Now, while this might sound complicated, I promise that it will all make more sense soon. While experimenting with the MakeyMakey – I was showing its capabilities to a few teachers and discussing the possibilities for student work – when we discovered a wonderful way to empower our students to take action. We devised the framework of a plan to create a “Talking Water Fountain” – by using the new MakeyMakey device, supplies from our action corner, and student motivation, we would develop a water fountain that raised awareness about water conservation.

We met with the students of Grade 1E, who loved the idea, and soon began to give us their input on how we could improve upon our design. While I began to work out the logistics of the necessary devices (a laptop, portable speakers, the MakeyMakey), the students were busy creating advertisements, blueprints for displays, and researching more facts about water conservation. Once they had researched and written down information related to the importance of water, we recorded different students saying these facts and compiled over fifteen audio clips that would be used to give our water fountain a voice.

The next step was to create a circuit that when completed, would cause the laptop to play one of the recordings, wait fifteen seconds, and then play another recording. This process proved to be the most challenging, as our first iteration proved to have an enormous flaw, that caused it to backfire.

 

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Final Version of the Bottle Holder

 

Our first prototype would speak whenever water from the spout spilled into the dish below – as you can imagine, this ended up leading to curious students from other classes simply running the tap purposefully, just to hear their friends’ voices coming from the water fountain. With our goal being water conservation, and to raise awareness, this was the opposite of what we wanted. We had to go back to the drawing board and design something that would promote the use of bottles over plastic cups, and discourage water wastage.

With the help of the students, our third design was a success. We had finally created a water bottle holder that would remain attached to the fountain, and whenever a student used a water bottle, it would complete the circuit and reward the child by speaking to them. The unveiling of the project was an exciting moment for the students and teachers that had been involved since the beginning; and, over the next few days, students from every grade level would come by and try the water fountain out for themselves. I was able to track the number of times the water fountain was triggered and found that it was averaging over four-hundred uses per day.

While the water fountain had to eventually be taken down so that we could use the parts for future projects, it’s time in the Grade 1 hallway was exciting, and it’s last day happened to be during the student-led conferences, where many children brought their parents by just to show it to them.

We are hoping to be getting more MakeyMakeys soon, and I would love to create more projects like this. If you have any questions about the process, the device, or suggestions for future projects, you can email me at alexander.johnson@oberoi-is.org. Oh, and please enjoy the video I created documenting the entire journey from start to finish – you can find it below:

A big thank you to my colleagues and the wonderful students of Grade 1E, without whom the project wouldn’t have been a success.

Approximate Cost Breakdown (in Indian Rupees):

  • MakeyMakey: ~4,000 INR
  • Speakers: ~800 INR
  • Laptop: ~20,000 INR (Would work with any old computer)

Everything else was recycled materials brought in by students.


Quotes from Teachers, Parents & Students:

Naitik Chheda (Student, Age 7)

When we made the talking water fountain, the water fountain was sometimes talking without putting in a bottle. Mr. Alex asked us to try and figure out what the problem was, so I went home and asked my Nana who is an engineer. He gave me some solutions that I brought to school the next day. In the end, everything worked out perfectly.”

Jyotsna Changrani (Mother of a Student)

“Not only does the fountain engage the students in a remarkable way to spread the message about saving our resources, the act of building it was a very valuable experience. The students did not lose their enthusiasm despite repeated failures and continued to work together over several weeks – sharing the thrills of their creative efforts – until they hit upon success. That is outstanding!”

Ashrita Pais (Homeroom Teacher):

“’The Talking Water Fountain’ started off as just an idea to promote student action. A very important element of my teaching style is providing students with opportunities to take action and I always encourage students to use their learning to benefit themselves or others in some way. With the help of Mr. Alex, Ms. Sana, and a MakeyMakey, this idea was turned into a working talking water fountain within a few weeks. I am very proud of my first graders, who were able to understand the physics behind it and took the initiative to go above and beyond to make it a success.”

 

 

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