Tuesday, February 3, 2015


I got to thinking the other day about the myriad of STEM competitions and challenges that are out there any how many emails I receive on a regular basis about them...app inventing challenges, science fairs, math competitions, essay contests...the list goes on.  They are such valuable learning opportunities for students and add what Volkwagen calls the 'fun' theory to life.  Bring a challenge into the classroom and it adds a whole different level of motivation and engagement.
Fun Theory
As a teacher, while I always saw the value in challenges and competitions, they were also a bit stressful due to deadlines and coordinating school schedules and worktime.  This year, though, I tried to integrate them with the standards that I am teaching anyway and bring them into my classroom.  It's been great!  The powerful thing about these STEM challenges is that they are open-ended and that there is no limit to how high or far you can go.  The limit is the students' imagination.  This is where their ingenuity shines through.
Take the e-cybermission challenge.  There are supporting materials provided on the site, so I used these to set the context.  The students brainstormed an existing problem in the world and worked in teams to come up with a solution.  I integrated their ideas with 3D printing design and printing as well as informative/explanatory writing.
Here is one group's model of a well to solve the problem of lack of drinking water in Africa:

Here are a few examples of informative writing aligned to the grades 6-8 technical subject's writing standards that requires a clear introduction, supporting details, organized paragraphs, the use of headings and diagrams where appropriate and more:


My team will be tackling the problem of ocean pollution this year, particularly oil spills.  Our solution will be a small floating device that will be stationed around oil rigs.  It would be able to pull a containment barrier around the affected area in a timely manner.  Once other ships arrive, the machine would pump oil into containment tanks on the awaiting ships.  We feel that this device would greatly reduce the environmental damage of oil spills.

Design -
The device would resemble a large chlorine basket used in pools.  It would have a solar panel mounted on the top along with a sensor array.  Underneath it would house two electric motors to drive its propellers.  The shape of the device would be a large circular design.  This would enable it to hold a rolled up oil containment barrier.

Useage -
This robot’s sensor already mentioned earlier would locate an oil slick.  Then begin to deploy the containment base, then circle around the oil slick.  This device is intended to be stationed around oil rigs, and oil tankers.  Since it would have its own solar panel, it would not need to use an exterior power source.  This design will make the oil industry much safer.

Feasibility -
I feel that this plan is very feasible.  The device is intended to be used by governments and oil companies.  However, multiple investors would be required to make this project a reality.  To conclude, we here feel that this design could change the world and hope the project is a success.


The Life Wall
Not everyone has clean water.  Lots of countries have water, yet it is often polluted by salt, dirt, or even  chemicals.  Several things have been tried, but not on a large scale.
That is why I have come up with a solution called Life Wall.  Life Wall is a very fine mesh wall that is strong enough to stand in a current of water, yet is still fine enough to sort out small particles.  It is a chain-link fence, made from sturdy aluminum, with squares about 5 inches on either side.  Inside of these squares will a softer, vinyl fabric with holes in it only one-tenth of a millimeter big.  The aluminum bars will not rust, and the mesh will keep out even the smallest chunks of dirt or gravel.  After the cleaner water passes through another one of these fences.  However, instead of having mesh in between the bars, there will be smaller metal bars about 3 inches wide.  This fence will have little heat sources in them.  Since the bars are now it will heat the water and kill off any bacteria in the water.
These fences will be lightweight, and won’t take up a lot of space. The Life Wall could be used anywhere, from small rivers to huge lakes.  Anywhere there is flowing dirty water, you can put a layer of Life Wall down and come out with clean, purified water.  Imagine this will be used in third-world countries like Africa, or even at the coast of California to get the salt out of the ocean.


It seems that is you even touch the subject of education these days, S.T.E.M. appears.  In case you don’t know, it’s be highly surprising, it stands for science, technology, engineering, and math.  I believe it is good that it is being shoved in our faces because with the world becoming more advanced, we need to raise our young generations to surpass the ones before them.  But while they shove it in our faces, there is no follow-up to help the teachers and students fully embrace this new way of learning.  To help kids understand S.T.E.M. and be interested we need to have them work on real-life problems, as I am now, take more field trips, and get them the technology they need.
Many problems are faced in the world today and a lot of people get stumped by them, but they have rarely turned to the most creative minds in the world to help solve those problems.  They are kids.  While kids can’t actually solve the problems using advanced calculus and engineering, they can think of engineering marvels.  A force field, Iron Man suit, and maybe even a magical fireball which may have led to nuclear bombs.  Depending on the age level, they can even do the engineering and problem themselves.  Se we can leave the crazy ideas, which should be taken seriously, to kids, and we leave the real-world problems to the teens.  This can involve more students in S.T.E.M. activities even if it is just using creativity to make crazy engineering ideas.
ADHD, a neurological disorder which affects kids attention spans, is on the rise.  In 2011, 11% of children, on average, in every state are currently diagnosed with ADHD.  This means that the traditional teacher-makes-students-take-notes-and-they-sit-in-their-seat-the-whole-period-
approach isn’t going to work in the future, and it’s barely working now.  If students were able to take a field trip twice a month to see S.T.E.M. businesses and organizations, it could have a great impact on them.  Even if a guest speaker comes to class and gives a presentation on their career, it still makes an impact.  Now last but not least, getting the technology.
In order for students to actually experience what S.T.E.M. activities are, the need the technology to do it.  ________ Middle School is known for its wide variety and amount of technology we have here.  But what if we had more?  We could have holograms, 3D printers, new Mac desktops, etc.  But to have this we would probably have to pay a tuition, so most people want to stick with what we have now.  Before we can fill schools with super technology, we need to get them updated to _________’s current stage now.  We have outdated technology, but we are far better off than almost any school.  And that is what scares me because education funding is going in the wrong place.  
As you can see, the uprising of S.T.E.M. is having a big impact on education.  To get more kids interested in S.T.E.M. careers and for us to be able to surpass the generation before us we need real-life projects involving S.T.E.M., more field trips, and we need to update EVERY school with super technology.


Today, kids all around America have a real problem getting outdoors and around the neighborhood.  These kids rarely hike trails or do outdoor activities.  Because of this, they do not have a good appreciation of the nature that is right outside of their door.  What they need is a fun and interactive way to get outside and learn about the local nature.  
To solve this, we have created a concept for an app that would help locate trails in your neighborhood.  Our app will route trails from easy to hard to best suit the hiker, and to encourage the user to strive to hike bigger and longer trails through the use of a unique reward system.  This system would reward the user to hiking and completing trails.
Another part of our app that will educate the user of the local nature is a “nature I-spy” section that gives a challenging scavenger hunt that will make you keep an eye out for certain plant and animal species that you can find to gain trail points.  Once you find and take a picture of the organism, our app will educate the user with a short lesson about the organism, that, if read and comprehended, can earn you extra points.
Another feature that would be included is the option to connect with your friends and compete or cooperate with them.  This option would pit yourself against your friends in a race to gather as many “trail points’ as possible.  You could also cooperate with them by sending and explaining findings with each other that can rack up your trail points faster.
Our app will revolutionize learning about nature in our area and will help kids around our community  We plan to carry our idea out with the “Verizon App Challenge.”

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