A College Preparatory Private School with Two Campuses in Suffolk, VA. Pre-Kindergarten – Grade 12.

Middle School Students Enter STEM Competitions

Middle School students participating in STEM competitions

Middle School students are busy in the STEM Innovation Lab as they participate in two competitions that will put their skills to the test.

Taylor Elswick '28, Taylor McElroy '28, Trey McMurran '28, Evangeline Megowen '28 and Ava Rapp '28 are virtually facing off against students from all over the world in this year's Sphero Global Challenge. In its third year, the Sphero Global Challenge bills itself as the ultimate STEM, robotics and design competition, and an opportunity for kids to go deeper with computational thinking, engineering and programming skills. This year's theme of the Sphero Global Challenge is Sphero in the Wild, with tasks focused on the study of animal behavior.

"Using Sphero Bots, which are basically full programmable robot balls, students complete five different challenges," said STEM Learning and Innovation Specialist Joey Seal. "Each one has its own objectives. The end goal of each challenge is to make the bots mimic the behaviors and actions of different safari animals. Students are challenged to show different interactions between animals, feeding and sleeping patterns and even different sorts of playtime activities of these wild animals."

"My favorite part of the experience has been planning out what we wanted the Spherobots to do," said Evangeline. "The imaginative part of that was very fun!"

"Some of the skills these seventh graders have learned in their Design Thinking I class will help them in this competition, including the basics of block coding, 3D modeling for some of the aesthetics on the course map and following the steps of the design process, including research, planning and prototyping," said Mr. Seal. "They also have learned strong teamwork skills, problem solving and a lot of trial and error!"

Submissions for the Sphero Global Challenge were due February 13, and finalists are announced three weeks later on March 6. Finalists advance to the Sphero World Championship later this spring.

Meanwhile, Amaya Miller '27, Madeline Korving '27, Daniel Rodriguez '27 and Gracie Grant '27 have entered the Virginia Ship Repair Association's Digital Innovation Competition. According to the VSRA's website, the event is aimed at enhancing awareness of careers available in the ship repair industry and the skills and education needed to pursue those careers. Participation in the VSRA Digital Innovation Competition will increase the students' mathematical, analytical and conceptual skills, as well as give them valuable information on an industry that is vital to their community.

Each team in the VSRA's Digital Innovation Competition is tasked with using Tinkercad software to design a ship, a portion of a ship or a component of a ship that may be repaired in Hampton Roads. They will also prepare a PowerPoint on the design and write an 800-word essay on ship repair occupations.

"I was so excited when this opportunity for our students came up, because shipbuilding is a huge part of Hampton Roads," said Mr. Seal. "Through this competition, our team researches some of the more prominent jobs in shipbuilding in the area, such as welding, shipfitting, pipefitting and various electronic engineering positions and riggers."

"This competition is an awesome opportunity to learn more about our shipbuilding industry and its importance to our area, as well as work with friends and come up with what could be the next great innovation in shipbuilding and naval technology!" said Madeline.

"In their Design Thinking II class, these eighth graders have learned how to use various software to create 3D models, which is the main portion of this competition," said Mr. Seal. "They have used the design process to research, brainstorm and develop their idea from paper to a 3D model. Their solution, which I can't spoil it yet, is definitely a very high-level thinking concept, and I am so proud of them for stretching their minds to come up with something unique and applicable. This group blows me away every time we meet with their determination and persistence!"

The VSRA's Digital Innovation Competition takes place Thursday, March 16, at Nauticus in Norfolk. The top three teams will win a cash prize for their school and a banner.

"There are a number of benefits for our students when they enhance their STEM experience through competition," said Mr. Seal. "First, I think it is important to showcase our amazing students on the local and international stage. All of our students, not just the ones in these competitions, work so hard every day to really challenge themselves and embrace the concept of thinking outside of the box. They deserve every opportunity available to showcase that! These competitions also add a new layer to the design process, in that they create a bit more urgency. Students are learning the importance of little details and why everything matters. I think there are a lot of life lessons embedded in these experiences. One of the main concepts that we spend a great deal talking about is the importance of failure and learning from mistakes. Part of the design process has a built in buffer for mistakes, because students are encouraged to tiptoe the line of possible and impossible. Making adjustments based on mistakes is the core of Design Thinking and these students are learning that daily!"

Good luck to all of our STEM Saints!




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