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Draper Journal

Channing Hall students lead the state in STEM competition

Aug 17, 2020 03:00PM ● By Julie Slama

The Automators, who were regional finalists in the eCybermission national STEM competition, pose while preparing to present their project at the Channing Hall STEM Fair in November 2019. (Photo courtesy of Channing Hall)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

It’s been three years and only a few schools’ teams have managed to get a couple spots each year in the state’s top STEM competition results. 

That’s because Channing Hall has claimed most of them.

This year wasn’t an exception as they allowed only one school to place in the top nine places in the eCybermission national STEM competition. And one of Channing Hall’s teams, the Automators, were regional finalists, winners of a $1,000 savings bond, and named to the top five teams in the western United States.

First-place team members each receive $1,000 savings bonds. Those are the Automators (Esun Tafa, Kyler Harris, and Coleman West) in sixth grade and Energizer Dragons (Natalia Mendoza, Ava Brinkerhoff and Lyla Sylvia) in seventh grade.

Second-place team members received a $500 bond. Channing Hall swept all second-places with WDKY (Arianna Larson, Lottie Robison and Kyra Gordon) in sixth grade, The Bight Ideals (Kelton Tippets, Venkata Sura and Gage Woodbury) in seventh, and Plastic Pollution Preventers (Katie Brown, Brynn Frohman and Abigail Holland) in eighth grade. 

Honorable mention teams included Fire Foxes (Erin Astin, Jayda Runia and Isabelle Gunther) in sixth grade, Lifeless Waters (Hunter Shurtleff, Mia Dalley, River Jones and Wyatt Thornton) in seventh grade and Out of this World (Sophia Ebert, Vivian Fehrenbach and Jensen Hornbaker) in eighth grade.

About 5,000 teams across the U.S. participate in the competition.

“I really like eCybermission,” said Jenny McIntosh, who advised the younger teams. “I like that at the beginning of the year, we’re introducing a different way to think about how to improve things around us—and we tie it into the core curriculum. I liked how students are researching and discussing their ideas and taking what interests them into their own learning. Through eCybermission, they’re learning firsthand, the engineering and scientific processes. I like how we reach out to improve and make an impact in our community and our world. That’s the core of IB (international baccalaureate program which Channing Hall offers to its primary and middle years students).”

McIntosh said that the school puts a priority on the competition.

“We jump right on it at the beginning of the school year and coordinate with our Think Lab,” she said. “So many of our students want to do engineering projects rather than pure science experiments. There’s a shift where they are understanding the engineering process, identifying a problem or issue in the community and finding a way to improve it to make a difference.”

Students brainstorm, noticing what is around them, what interests them, what ideas they have to make things better in their world, she said.

With the Automators, two of the three students are musicians and identified turning pages of their music as an idea. Their solution—they created a music page-turner prototype controlled by a foot pedal.

“At first, it didn’t work well, but it seldom works how you want it the first time. But they learned the process and learned from their errors and explored why it didn’t work,” McIntosh said.

For some projects students collected their own data as team WDKY did. They looked into what types of activities work best for students before test-taking, from meditation to exercise to candy. Another team, Fire Foxes, wanted to know if color affects the way a person interprets taste and had fellow students sample colored vanilla ice cream.

Jeff Meyers, who advised the seventh- and eighth-grade teams, said his students looked into things that may affect them firsthand at school such as how different drinks affect productivity and if sunlight is important for academic development, to more global issues such as designing, in this case, a remote-controlled boat dragging a net, to get trash out of the ocean or specifically, how to get plastic out of the ocean by using bamboo nets. A group even designed and tested a water filtration method that would turn saltwater into fresh water.

He said that the online format allowed students to compete while other competitions were postponed or put on hold as many in-person events were in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s good because it has been a weird year with the coronavirus,” Meyers said. “Our kids did well. Some take it really seriously and have high expectations. It’s great our kids did so well and nice to see our school name out there.”