And the winner is….
School: Samuel Mickle School (Mickleton, New Jersey)
Teacher: Nicole Macaluso
Students: Evan Kidd, Amelia McGravey, Tim Ninan, Arya Patel, and Ethan Zheng (6th Grade SOAR Team)
Winning Submission: View PDF
When informed that her 6th grade class won the STEM Wars Contest, Ms. Macaluso was overjoyed.
“Wow! Wonderful! I told the kids right away! Thank you again for the opportunity, for where the world sees opportunity, the challenge of change is planted and grows.” — Ms. Macaluso
- School: Hubbard Middle School / Teacher: Paula Anderson
- School: Durand High School (@HubbardJH2016) / Students: Erica Laube, Natalie Conroy, Abigail Baird, Hanna Kness / Teacher: Lisa Frank
- School: Samuel J. Preston Elementary School / Teacher: Keith Nelman and Heidi Hassan (4th and 5th grade)
Challenging Students to Succeed in STEM!
Recently, we challenged students to leap back into learning after the holiday break by solving an exciting engineering conundrum. We called it STEM Wars: The F=m(a) Awakens (#STEMWarsContest). Not only did participating students rise to the challenge, they blew us away with their creative, problem-solving solutions!
This challenge combined project-based, inquiry learning with a parody of the biggest movie of the year (Star Wars: The Force Awakens). It began with an animated video describing the problem, using characters based on Star Wars (Han Solenoid, Super Luke, and Chewbeaker).
Students were encouraged to combine creativity with scientific prowess to save Han Solenoid and Chewbeaker from the scary swamp on planet Dacobalt. This required students to employ steps of the engineering process used by real engineers. These steps include defining the problem, using the information given to determine knowns and unknowns, and designing a solution based on scientific concepts (the way scientists do in the real world). Students also had to test their solution and show how it could be used successfully to save the ship, which made for some awesome pictures and videos showing project-based learning in action!
The winning class will receive some out of this galaxy prizes, including:
The STEM Wars challenge allowed students from classrooms across the country to benefit from interactive, project-based learning. Not only did the winning submission have to be scientifically accurate, it also had to be creative. While we knew students (and teachers!) love Star Wars, we were inspired by how many awesome solutions students created! This contest shows engineering, a subject plagued by cries of boredom by students, and a difficulty with implementation for teachers, can be fun and engaging for all when combined with a project students can connect with. Participating in STEM Wars was another way for teachers to help inspire the next generation of engineers.
The potential for Star Wars to teach students about STEM isn’t exactly a secret. As The New York Times recently discussed (Lesson Plan | Teaching ‘Star Wars’ With The New York Times), Star Wars can be used in lesson plans for many subjects, including engineering, physics (encouraging students to examine the physics of space battles) and math (using math to chart new planets in the Star Wars universe). Days following the premier of Star Wars, astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) did a popular (and hotly debated) series of posts fact-checking the science behind the film. While other media outlets featured fun stories analyzing and explaining the science of Star Wars, like this Wired article on determining the rolling speed of the BB-8 droid.
With National Engineering Week coming soon, it’s the perfect time to celebrate hard-working engineering and design students across the country and the winners of STEM Wars.
The winning team from Samuel Mickle School (an innovative elementary school whose motto is, “Today a hornet. Tomorrow a leader“), used their resourcefulness to determine which items from Dacobalt could be used to create a pulley system to pull the wrecked ship out of the swamp. They employed magnets and evaporation to assist with the rescue.
Part of the project submission meant analyzing knowns and unknowns. In their submission presentation, the students explained their reasoning.
“We thought it was highly important that we know more about how we could use the natural resources, such as Cobalt and the vines and trees as a pulley system. We took the keywords that the droid last stated (electromagnet, pulley, hydro pump, and evaporate) and tried to use all of them in our STEM system. However, without knowing the mass and dimension of the ship, as well as the amount of solar energy available to harness a system of direct sunlight for evaporation, the ideas could prove unsound from a mathematical standpoint. Also, not knowing other available resources on the vessel causes us to rely heavily on the natural environment surrounding the swamp.” — 6th Grade SOAR Class
Here are the steps of their design:
- Build cobalt boulders and vine pulley system from twine, foil, and hard objects
- Rig system to the tree and strongest branches
- Build solar energy system and position it toward the swamp from above
- Attach electromagnet to ship by lowering it from above in the trees via the pulley system
- Allow time for evaporation and test tree, branch, and vine strength.
- Use other natural resources and tree pieces to reinforce pulley system
- Dig out cobalt boulder and attach pulley system
- Push boulder over the edge and allow the ship to be pulled
In addition to their presentation (which you can download and read HERE), the class submitted photos of their process and a detailed video presentation featuring student, Amelia McGravey, confidently explaining their solution. Score! We incorporated their video footage into STEM Wars II (above). Ms. Macaluso’s class is STEAM (STEM + Art) and project-based, which made conquering STEM Wars a breeze for this experienced team.
We reached out to Ms. Macaluso to ask her about her experience doing the STEM Wars, project-based challenge with her class. Her feedback surely resonates with many STEM teachers who are seeking exciting, fun ways to engage students in STEM learning.
EDUCATION INSIDER: What made you decide to do the STEM Wars challenge with your class?
Ms. Macaluso: I believe that whenever possible, we should seek new challenges and mini projects throughout our lives. I try to teach my students that we need to take on challenges that are just outside our comfort zones and things we are used to. Eventually, without even realizing it, our comfort zone can be everywhere and anything! I received an email from the company about the challenge and, with all the movie hype, I thought my kids would love to take it on. It was a great opportunity for them to use their resources to build and their brains to be creative. We liked that the clues and entire anomaly were manageable and did not require advanced equipment or tools we don’t have access to. It was something we could feel capable and excited about, while being unique!
EDUCATION INSIDER: Why do you think STEM Wars resonated so well with your class? It looked like they had fun doing it!
Ms. Macaluso: I think anything that connects to current trends and events resonates with kids and people as a whole. Therefore, my students liked the little video clip that came along with the challenge and theme of Star Wars. The challenge was readable while still being challenging and the students were able to build their design plan and test it, which they loved.
EDUCATION INSIDER: Has the class done similar projects?
Ms. Macaluso: The class is STEAM and project based by design. In the fall, students participated in their first cardboard creation challenge and have done a number of “instant challenges” in class. We are currently working on getting a drone that will be able to support the mass of a small cargo package. The students want to test the use of drone systems to carry medical supplies to people in times of natural crisis. Therefore, they are familiar with the steps of planning a design and action plan, such as Stem Wars.
EDUCATION INSIDER: How and why you choose Amelia McGravey (the student in the video) to do the presentation?
Amelia volunteered to speak on the video. She felt like she could speak to the project in an unscripted way. She has great voice and camera presence because of her confidence and attention to detail in the project, even the parts she didn’t create. She chose to speak and the group was happy to let her 🙂 One of the challenges we are also working on is public speaking because when your mind is full of great intention and strong ideas for a better world, it needs the proper voice and timing to propel it into the universe. We can not hide behind what we create and what manifests within us, great intention requires great speakers 🙂
These students demonstrated they can provide an innovative solution, backed by scientific concepts, in response to a problem. Not only did they prove they have what it takes to save the galaxy, they proved they have what it takes to excel in STEM.
Congratulations to Ms. Macaluso’s 6th grade SOAR class! You’re on your way to becoming engineers and tomorrow’s leaders!
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