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Students drive their own learning and build new skill sets by partnering with businesses to solve relevant, real-world problems.

Student Powered Solutions (SPS)

location_on Mt Pleasant Township, United States
Student Powered Solutions (SPS) elevates teachers and propels students to take charge of their own learning by empowering them as partners with local businesses. Leveraging concepts from Project-based Learning (PBL) and Human-centered Design (HCD) methods, students apply content knowledge and soft skills to design innovative solutions to real-world problems.
The thing I liked about this project the most was that there were no guidelines. We could take this project into any direction that we wanted. We had a freedom that really helped get this project done. We were able to think outside the box and get different tasks done in different ways.

SPS Student


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Key figures

Innovation Overview

10 - 18
Age Group
Updated on September 17th, 2021
about the innovation

Student Powered Solutions (SPS)

Nothing motivates and engages kids or brings out their problem solving, communication, and collaboration like a real-world challenge. That’s why our Student Powered Solutions (SPS) is so effective. It builds partnerships between schools and businesses to bring authentic learning into the classroom.

Through SPS, students partner with a local company to learn about their operations and a problem they are trying to solve. In their classrooms, students team up to take on the challenge, conducting research, proposing and testing theories, building prototypes, and developing potential solutions. At the conclusion, they make a formal presentation, pitching their solutions to their corporate partners.

These project-based learning experiences give kids a chance to apply classroom learning from almost any subject while also building important “soft skills” such as - communication, collaboration, and problem solving. The business partner benefits too, getting a fresh, youthful perspective that may never have been considered. Businesses also get the chance to promote their career opportunities.  

To facilitate this learning, SPS teachers employ elements of project-based learning (PBL). Buck Institute for Education defines PBL as, “a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging, and complex question, problem, or challenge.” Key elements include:

  • an authentic open-ended question or problem
  • student voice and choice
  • research and development
  • crafted prototypes or draft solutions
  • feedback from peers and experts; multiple solution iterations
  • a public presentation of student work

PBL puts students at the center of their learning. And works for students of all abilities, skills, and grade levels.

SPS elevates and empowers teachers with a new pedagogy that engages students as partners in creating their learning. To make SPS more effective and powerful we integrate human-centered design (HCD) methods with PBL. HCD techniques help students become more effective problem solvers and collaborators and they provide teachers with tools they can use to facilitate learning and impactful idea generation.

Schools and businesses in the Pittsburgh region have engaged in “SPS” type projects for many years. Teachers in South Fayette Township School District were among the first to build entire courses around the SPS model. They engaged businesses to provide real-world challenges and formally incorporated elements of project-based learning and human-centered design. Recognizing the powerful impact these learning opportunities bring to students, leadership in South Fayette reached out to the Consortium for Public Education so that we could bring their model to scale across our region. Over the past two years, Consortium staff have formalized training and support for new teachers and businesses adding more than a dozen new SPS partners with many more on board for next school year. We have also expanded SPS to include students from some of the most economically challenged school districts and have demonstrated the effectiveness of this model for all students.

See the post below, "Authentic Experiences for Students" and the video, "Student Powered Solutions in Action" for more information and an example of SPS in action!


See this innovation in action

Student Powered Solutions in Action 
Authentic Experiences for Students
When teams from our Student Powered Solutions (SPS) program presented ideas for reducing or recycling a troublesome waste product at a local ductwork manufacturing plant, one of their suggestions sparked visible interest. SPS presentations don’t always result in ‘aha moments.’ But they do offer business partners fresh perspectives and for students, they offer invaluable opportunities, not least of which is a lens for seeing the relevance of their learning. Teachers find this kind of engagement can spark enthusiasm even among hard to engage students.  In this example, our SPS teams were challenged to find ways a manufacturing company could reduce or dispose of a polyurethane foam that overspills the production line. Committed to environmental stewardship, the company was trucking huge quantities of the bulky foam to a waste-to-energy plant, which was enormously costly to do. One student team researched and tested alternative uses for the foam. They created seat cushions and suggested using it for playground surfaces or as packing material. They even consulted a shipping company to find out if there could be a partnership between the businesses to sell the polyurethane foam to the shipping company for customers to use as a packing material, a solution that piqued the company’s interest. The other team, an engineering class, focused on the production process. They studied the company’s extruder and prototyped new designs. They adjusted variables in the chemical reaction like time and temperature. Through their experiments they discovered that when the temperature was lowered to 50 degrees, considerably less waste was produced. At the final presentation, company engineers respectfully listened but when they heard about the students’ results the atmosphere in the room changed. The engineers leaned in, they asked questions, and reviewed the data. Changing the temperature was a solution that they had never considered and that they might be able to bring to their production line, providing significant savings.Regardless of whether the companies find useable solutions to their problems, students invariably see the payoffs from SPS projects. And companies have piqued the interest of students as their future workforce. “It’s really different from a normal classroom experience where the teacher structures the assignment,” said one teen. “You’re kind of on your own and you have to figure things out, just like you would if you were working.” Communications skills needed to discuss ideas with adults made participating in SPS less like a class assignment and “more like it would be in business,” said another team member. Students also get to see how what they learn in the classroom – science, math, writing, public speaking, etc. —can be applied in the real world. And by working in teams, students learn the importance of skills like communication, collaboration, and problem solving. Skills that students need to be successful employees in the current workforce, and in future jobs that don’t yet exist. Additionally, students get a firsthand look at career opportunities they previously were unaware of or could only imagine.
SPS Handout pg1
SPS Handout pg2
Students & Educators Engaging with Project-based Learning
Importance of Soft Skills
Students being able to identify and develop their soft skills is an integral aspect of Student Powered Solutions, and are skills students will need in future careers and life.
Introducing the Consortium
To learn more about the Consortium for Public Education....


Achievements & Awards

May 2019
December 2018
Innovation page created on

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Inspired to implement this? Here's how...

Learn (more) about Project-based Learning (PBL)
PBL is very different from traditional classroom instruction and many educators need resources, support, and/or training to gain confidence and a toolbox of strategies that will work for them and their students.
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Identify a business partner and a problem challenge
Partner with a local business or organization that can provide a real-world problem for students to solve.
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Kickoff with questions and context
Hook students’ interest with a project kickoff.
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Learn, refine, and design solutions
Develop a project plan that scaffolds learning and creativity.
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Present to an authentic audience to learn & build skills
Public speaking can be scary.
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Celebrate and reflect
Take time to recognize and celebrate learning.
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