Posts Tagged ‘stem’

Participants in the 2021 Indiana High School Architectural Design Competition.

It makes a difference when professionals offer their expertise to school students. In today’s story we see what happened when an architect returned to his old high school to teach in its STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math] program.

Victoria St. Martin reports at the Washington Post, “It can happen in an instant: that moment when you go from not knowing what you want to do for the rest of your life, to having absolute certainty about it. For Tarik El-Naggar, it happened in 1970, when he was in the seventh grade working on a project for English class.

“The assignment? Construct a reproduction of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre out of everyday objects. He built a 2-foot-diameter cardboard model — and an architect was born. … Says El-Naggar, who’s now 63 and co-owner of an architecture and interior design firm, ‘I don’t know what it was about the building. It had all the seating, the stage and the open roof — it was just awesome. It was a lightbulb moment.’

“El-Naggar’s life came full circle when he added ‘high school teacher’ to his résumé nine years ago — building a STEM curriculum with members of the administration at his former school in northwest Indiana. Inside his Valparaiso High School classroom, students have their own lightbulb moments by creating projects using ping-pong balls, cardboard, computers and 3-D printers. ‘Instead of just teaching the basics of architecture, I’m actually really teaching them design theory,’ says El-Naggar, whose class is similar to what he taught at a nearby college.

“And he’s gotten results: [In 2021] his Valparaiso students swept the Indiana High School Architectural Design Competition, winning all nine awards out of 72 entries from eight schools. …

“Valparaiso, a middle-class community about 55 miles southeast of Chicago, began incorporating more STEM courses into its curriculum about six years ago. A school official said the district wanted to place more emphasis on skills such as critical thinking, communication, creativity and problem-solving, and secured several grants from the county redevelopment commission to bolster tools across K-12 classrooms. The high school roughly ranks in the top 10 percent in Indiana, and its standardized test scores in reading and math significantly outpace the rest of the state.

‘There are schools around the country that have great basketball programs. So, what do parents do? You move there because you want your son or daughter to go there,’ says El-Naggar. ‘I want people to look at what we’re doing here and say, “My kids are going to be engineers, architects. They need to be here.” ‘

“For high-schoolers who want to pursue architecture as a career, taking classes with El-Naggar is paying off: In the past three years, all five of the students who applied to university-level architectural programs have been accepted. ‘People were really impressed that I had already had this experience,’ says Henry Youngren, now a freshman at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. … ‘It’s really guided me on how I want to live the rest of my life.’

“Brandon Farley, an architect who is the chair of the high school design competition, says he has some records that date back to the 1970s and he’s ‘never seen anything where one school won all the awards.’ It’s rare that judges see high school teachers with formal architectural training, he adds. With Valparaiso High School’s entries, he says, ‘you can see it immediately in the way the students address the problems and their solutions, and in the way that they talk about their designs. It really raised the bar on the competition.’

“Seventeen-year-old Olivia Lozano received one of the awards. ‘It kind of got the ball rolling for me,’ she says of the contest, for which she created a reading room filled with glass windows that opened to the outdoors. ‘Then it turns into a vortex and you’re down in El-Naggar’s classroom like four hours a day, and then you’re here after school, and then you’re here on the weekends and over spring break.’

“El-Naggar says the lightbulb moment for his students today really happens when they first see a 3-D view of their building. ‘The ones that go, “Oh, my gosh,” and they start “walking” through it and they’re telling other people, “Look at this.” ‘ …

“When the University of Notre Dame, near South Bend, Ind., asked him to critique student projects, he met a fellow architect and professor who would help him get his first teaching gig, at Andrews University in Michigan. Once he started, he knew he’d discovered a second passion. Several years later, he was asked to fill in and teach architecture in his hometown at the high school. He welcomed the opportunity to teach five minutes from his home.

“Now his fervor for teaching is gaining more attention, earning him a teacher of the year award from a national project-based-learning group this past fall. ‘We consider ourselves very blessed to have a teacher like him in the classroom,’ says Nick Allison, the school district’s assistant superintendent for secondary education.”

More at the Post, here.

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Photo: Time magazine, 2020.
At 15, scientist Gitanjali Rao made history with a device to detect lead in drinking water. ‘You don’t need a PhD to make a difference,’ she says.

More kids are getting into science these days, and I think their enthusiasm is going to benefit us all.

Anne Branigin reports at the Lily, “Gitanjali Rao just finished her final exam of the year and, like any other teenager, is eager to begin her summer.

“The 15-year-old is, in many ways, not your typical teen. She landed on the cover of Time magazine in 2020 as its inaugural ‘Kid of the Year’ for her scientific achievements, which include building a device, Tethys, that detects lead in drinking water.

“But Rao doesn’t see herself as exceptional. In fact, when she was younger, she didn’t even see herself as ‘the science type.’ She was driven, instead, by trying to find solutions to problems in her community. Once she discovered science and technology could be a means of finding those solutions, there was no turning back.

‘Using science and technology as social change became something that was intuitive to me and something that I wanted to keep doing,’ she said. …

“Rao says her passion for STEM has shaped her days and her goals — she is working on creating a global network of young innovators to tackle global problems. It also fuels her relentless optimism for the future and all its possibilities. …

“Anne Branigin: I’m curious what a normal day looks like for you during a very not-normal year.

“Gitanjali Rao: A normal day obviously involves being your normal high school student, just, you know, maintaining a social life, still doing homework every single day, studying for exams. But then there’s this added layer of my research and innovations. A lot of my work has been focused on running my innovation workshops for students all over the globe, which is also taking up a little bit — a lot of my energy and time trying to maintain that sort of situation as well. And also just being, even remotely, in the public eye obviously comes with its own perks, but also disadvantages of being able to manage that as well. …

“I love helping people. I love using science and technology to do that. So that priority always comes first. … I don’t do eight things at a time. I might do eight things in a day, but not eight things at a time because I know what I need to focus on. I know how to prioritize my work. …

“Anne Branigin: On the subject of your generation, there’s a recent study showing that interest in STEM is at an all-time high among young people.

“Gitanjali Rao: It honestly makes me really happy to see younger generations engaging in science. Today’s kids are tomorrow’s innovators and they [will] make the world better, stronger and more sustainable in the future. …

“Anne Branigin: What do you think makes your generation’s approach to science unique?

“Gitanjali Rao: So a question that I commonly get is, what is one word to describe your generation? And I like to say, hotheaded — but in a good way. Our generation, if we put our mind to something, we want to get it done. That’s how I have been. That’s how a lot of my friends have been. …

“Anne Branigin: In the past, we haven’t always seen people of color and women and other members of marginalized communities really be the drivers of this technology. I’m curious how you’ve been thinking about equity and how those conversations have come up with your peers.

“Gitanjali Rao: My generation is destined to be innovators more than any generation that came before. And we’re the first generation to grow up as natural innovators because of how we live, where we live and what we have access to from a technology standpoint.

“Where I want to see that equity change is in education. Access to resources is something that obviously people have faced across the world. It’s an issue still to this day. It’s the 21st century, and we’re still talking about girls and women struggling to get education. But what it’s important to recognize is that a lot of times, the ideas start in the bare minimum.

“With my device, Tethys, to detect lead in drinking water, I started with a cardboard box and a couple of drawings on a piece of paper. And honestly, what that turned into was not looking at what resources I had, but dreaming big and then thinking back to reality.

“So equity is something that we need to work together to make a difference. But until then, it’s about using what we have on hand. Most of the innovators that I talk to online don’t have their driver’s license. I don’t have my driver’s license. But at the same time, it gives me this opportunity to be like, ‘Okay, with the resources that I have on hand, without having money to spend, what can I do?’ “

More at the Lily, here.

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Photo: Samsung
Sixth-graders at the Downtown Doral Charter Upper School in Florida worked with teacher Rebeca Martinez on a device to detect sediment buildup in a storm drain. The students’ project, which aims to stop flash floods, was among five grand-prize winners in the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Contest.

To my way of thinking, no amount of money is too much to pay teachers like those guiding the middle school students in today’s story to tackle a science competition. Whether in public or private school, teachers build the future, but since most students are in public schools, the type of education there is the most critical and most in need of funding. Every child should have opportunities to stretch themselves.

Lela Nargi reports at the Washington Post, “In late May, storms flooded streets in Miami-Dade County in Florida. The floods made cars sink and turned roads into brown rivers.

“A team of local middle school students has a plan to stop this ongoing problem.

“Alyssa Neuber, Bianca Verri and Jose Pirela are sixth-graders at Downtown Doral Charter Upper School. They designed a device to warn city workers when and where there is a danger of flooding. The team is one of five grand-prize winners of the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Contest. The contest asked for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) solutions to the biggest challenge facing a school community.

‘I’ve been living here my entire life, and all of us have encountered problems with flooding,’ says Bianca. ‘We knew that was the problem we were going to tackle.’

“Flash flooding can happen when storm drains get plugged up and, especially during hurricanes, overflow into streets. It’s the leading cause of weather-related deaths in the United States.

“The students’ device uses a laser system called lidar, which stands for ‘light detection and ranging.’ The device, if approved by the city government, could be attached to Doral’s 2,575 storm and manhole drains — one device per drain. If a drain gets clogged with sediment, the device could send a computer alert to the city’s stormwater management office. Then the stormwater manager could send someone to clean the drain.

“ ‘We had our class help us in the beginning to find information about how we were going to use lidar,’ says Jose.

“The three STEM whizzes then started to work more closely with their science teacher, Rebeca Martinez. They figured out what each of them is good at. … Class parents who were engineers and website coders helped them figure out the details.

“Starting in March, the school was closed, so team meetings went virtual. Luckily, says Bianca, ‘We already had a prototype device, and we just had to tweak it some more.’

“They also had to pitch their idea virtually to contest judges. …

“A team from Dougherty Valley High School in San Ramon, California, made a wildfire alert. At Fairfield Senior High School in Fairfield, Ohio, students designed an app to prevent deaths of kids left in hot cars. Students at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics in Durham invented an app that helps people recycle. And in Wisconsin, kids at Omro High School created a sensor that lets ice fishers know when it’s safe to walk on frozen lakes.

“Each of the five teams won $100,000 for technology and supplies for their science classrooms.” More at the Washington Post, here.

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Photo: Mashable
Teen girls invent portable, solar-powered tent for people experiencing homelessness.

I worked at MIT in the early 2000s in the same building as a foundation that gave grants to inventors, both established inventors and young people. How the family made the money that funded the foundation is a complicated story, but this support for inventors is a big deal, so hats off for that!

Brittany Levine Beckman writes at Mashable about an invention by an inspiring group of teen girls.

“As Daniela Orozco picks off excess plastic bordering a 3D-printed box, she recalls how many homeless people she saw on her way to school when she was a high school freshman. Just one.

“Four years later, the number has multiplied. … In the San Fernando Valley, homelessness increased 36% to 7,094 people last year, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Agency’s annual count. Daniela and her friends wanted to help, but giving money wasn’t an option.

” ‘Because we come from low-income families ourselves, we can’t give them money,’ the high school senior says. …

“That was the starting point for their invention: a solar-powered tent that folds up into a rollaway backpack. The girls and 10 others from their high school had never done any hands-on engineering work before, but with the help of YouTube, Google, and trial-and-error, they got it done. They hope that one day, their tent will improve the lives of people experiencing homelessness in their community.

“The teen girls from San Fernando High School … none of whom had coded, soldered, sewn, or 3D-printed before they joined forces, won a $10,000 grant from the Lemelson-MIT Program to develop the invention.

“They were recruited by DIY Girls, a nonprofit that teaches girls from low-income communities about engineering, math, and science, to go after the grant.

” ‘I knew I wanted to apply for it, but I needed a team,’ says Evelyn Gomez, 29, the executive director of DIY Girls. ‘I went back to my calculus teacher at my high school and did a hands-on recruitment activity.’ …

“Hands-on STEM education at schools, especially for girls in low-income communities, is severely lacking, Evelyn says. Women make up just 29% of the science and engineering workforce, according to the National Science Board, a federal agency. Around 6% of female working scientists and engineers are Hispanic or Latina.

” ‘I studied aerospace engineering. When I was getting my master’s degree, I was often the only girl in the class and definitely the only Latina in the class. … You’re going to represent the Latina community in a bad light if you ask a stupid question or you’re going to represent women in a bad light if you ask a stupid question, and of course that’s not true. But I felt that.’ …

“In the beginning, the team depended on Evelyn for guidance, but they quickly started doing everything on their own. If they had an issue with a solar panel not functioning properly, they watched YouTube videos. If they couldn’t figure out a stitch pattern, they Googled it. The girls even developed their own inspirational hashtag: #wegetitdone.

” ‘You’re learning new things you’ve never even heard of or even thought of,’ says Chelly Chavez, who learned the programming language C++ to get the technical aspects of the tent to behave. The tent has button-powered lights, two USB ports, a micro-USB port, and the girls have even tested a sanitizing UVC light on a countdown timer. …

“They made two prototypes of the tent, but the first one is now in shreds. They put it through the ringer during quality control tests, tearing it with a knife, dousing it with water, and stomping on it. … They destroyed their finished product, just to start again. It was yet another tough engineering lesson the girls would learn. …

“The $10,000 grant from the Lemelson-MIT Program could only be used on the invention itself, not traveling to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to present the award. So DIY Girls fundraised an additional $15,000 to send the team to MIT.” More here.

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Some schools are taking the current push for STEM skills (science, technology, engineering and math) a step further and putting kids on project teams with students from around the world. While you are learning science, you are getting to know what life is like somewhere else.

Dugan Arnett writes at the Boston Globe, “In just a few weeks’ time, the students in Kathy Wright’s Richard J. Murphy K-8 School STEM class have developed a keen grasp of Costa Rican culture.

“ ‘They don’t get snow there,’ said Jayd’n Washington, a 12-year-old seventh grader at the Dorchester school. Added fellow 12-year-old Fabian Riascos, ‘They have their own currency.’

“Their burgeoning interest in the Central American country stems not from a recent geography lesson plan — it’s the result, instead, of a program called Design Squad Global, which pairs American middle-school classes with students from other countries in a kind of virtual pen-pal relationship.

“Created by WGBH Boston as a spinoff of the old PBS television series ‘Design Squad,’ the program serves, at its core, as a way to introduce young students across the globe to the importance of engineering-related projects.

“But another goal — and one that organizers seem to value as much as anything — is the program’s ability to connect children from various locations, backgrounds, and cultures. …

“The DSG program connects kids ages 10-13. Currently, it operates in 25 American cities — including Boston, Chicago, and New York — and eight countries, from Brazil to Jordan to South Africa.

“At the start of the program, which can run either six or 12 weeks, two classes from different countries are paired together. In online correspondence, they tick off their names, nicknames, and interests — and as they tackle a collection of weekly projects, a virtual relationship blossoms. …

“The focus is on real-world problem-solving. Participants are charged with designing and constructing scaled-down versions of a number of projects: a structure that can withstand an earthquake, an emergency shelter, an adaptive device for someone with disabilities.

“ ‘Middle school kids can come up with some amazing solutions,’ said Mary Haggerty, who oversees educational outreach at WGBH. ‘It makes you feel very hopeful for the future.’ ”

More here.

Photo: Jonathan Wiggs/Globe staff
Jhondell Smith-Young tested his STEM project for a Dorchester class that assigns him to an international team.

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