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Shaping Good Samaritans with STEM Skills

4 months ago
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Biodegradable footwear. Affordable, bomb-proof housing. Insect repelling, essential oil-infused apparel. You might guess that these products are emerging from the latest Silicon Valley startups. But they all originate closer to home – in Philadelphia.

These creations and many more were showcased at the inaugural 2019 STEM Expo at Pope John Paul II Regional Catholic Elementary School. The creators? Fifth through eighth grade students.

They were assigned to choose one of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and a location where that goal has not yet been reached. Then as a team, they develop a product or process within real-world constraints to solve the problem.

In addition to making a brochure, an engineering notebook that documents their design process, a prototype or model, and a trifold display, the groups need to rehearse a pitch of the benefits and utility of their solutions to attract potential investors—just like in Shark Tank.

The top three groups from this year’s expo will bring their products to the Newark Archdiocese STEM Expo in April, where they will present with teams from other schools and hear first-hand from engineers about using STEM and STREAM methods in the workplace. The tops teams were also invited to present at the student showcase for NCEA’s STREAM conference in June.

“Our students are identifying challenges and realizing that they can design workable solutions.”

As for the rest of the students, there’s a whole world of problems that need solving, which means endless opportunities to practice their newly developed skills. “Our students are identifying challenges and realizing that they can design workable solutions,” remarks Jill Wentzel, STEM Coordinator at Pope John Paul II.

She remembers hearing that in a recent social studies unit on Siberia, students learned that wells there often freeze, forcing families to melt snow to obtain water. Students recognized the problem and asked if they could try to design a well that would prevent water from freezing.

“The social studies teacher and I are doing a co-teaching lesson soon where the students will be designing, building and testing prototypes to do just that!”