Samsung Solve for Tomorrow winners highlight STEM innovation in US schools
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Samsung Solve for Tomorrow winners highlight STEM innovation in US schools

Incorporating science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) into the educational process can be the catalyst for creative problem-solving. Innovation from young minds was center stage when the national winners of Samsung’s 9th annual Solve for Tomorrow Contest were announced at an event held earlier this month in New York City.

The teams from the three winning schools — Owensville High School in Owensville, Mo., Holly Grove Middle School in Holly Springs, N.C., and Deep Creek Middle School in Chesapeake, Va. — impressed the judges with their projects targeting school safety against intruders, pedestrian fatalities near bus stops, and vision access, respectively.

The competition challenges 6th to 12th graders and their teachers to apply STEM-forward thinking in developing solutions to issues in their local communities. The winning schools will now receive technology and classroom supplies for their schools with a retail value of about $100,000.

“This year’s national winners were truly impressive not only because of the passion and curiosity they have for solving critical community issues, but also because each school’s innovation represents a tangible solution capable of achieving measurable community impact,” said Ann Woo, Senior Director of Corporate Citizenship, Samsung Electronics America. “We at Samsung are committed to elevating STEM learning because, year-after-year, with the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow contest, we witness how it inspires students to explore their future potential as engineers, designers, mathematicians, software developers and more.”

Here’s an overview of the winning teams’ ingenuity.

Deep Creek Middle School: Finding glasses for those in need 
Access to good eyecare has been a perennial problem for some students at Deep Creek Middle School. Paula Labbe, a teacher at Deep Creek, knew that many students struggled in school because they came from families that were uninsured, underinsured, or simply did not have the financial resources to afford glasses.

This might not seem like a STEM problem on the surface. But the Deep Creek team applied STEM methods to creating an inventory of students who needed glasses and matched that with an initiative to solicit donations from their community.

“They had to determine the prescription of those donations and they had to track and manage that inventory, so they used a QR code and Excel spreadsheet to track and manage the inventory,” teacher Paula Labbe said.

“On top of that, we used multiple machines called ‘lensometers’ from the Lion’s Club to diagnose prescription of glasses, and figure out how glasses worked and what the prescriptions meant,” according to Hunter Johnson, an eighth-grader at the middle school.

With the inventory in place, the students then developed an app and a website where fellow students could request help and be connected with optometrists who could help fill their prescriptions. The students are now hoping to expand the service to other schools in their community.

“For me, one of the biggest skills that I’ve developed was probably learning how to create an app and a website from scratch, and how to connect them to local resources and set them up to a direct email link,” Johnson said.

It’s safe to say the impetus for this year’s winning solutions of the Solve for Tomorrow Contest reinforces STEM’s applicability to everyday problems we might overlook — and that age definitely does not matter when it comes to problem-solving.

Owensville High School: A lock goes a long way
School shootings continue to plague American public schools, which inspired the students at Owensville High School, a small school in central Missouri, to search for ways to prevent a trespasser from entering a school in the first place. What they came up with was an idea for an intruder safety lock. A firearm can easily be used to break-open traditional door locks. The students designed and prototyped a steel lock — designed to be installed on the inside of a door — that would be difficult for an armed intruder outside the classroom to break.

Paige Tayloe, a senior at Owensville High School who served as the project’s lead, said that the solution was about giving people more control over their safety. It’s a lot more realistic than how she typically considers some of her classes. “In my math class I think all the time, this isn’t real world stuff that I’m ever going to use, but in STEM class I’m actually using this to make an impact,” she said.

Holly Grove Middle School: Stopping to solve a safety problem
It took a bus nearly hitting a classmate to push students at this North Carolina school to investigate the realities of pedestrian safety near buses. They found that, in their state, cars illegally pass stopped school buses a reported 300 times a day — and nationally, 88 percent of school bus drivers have reported cars illegally passing stopped school buses. In the real world, those statistics translate into student injuries and fatalities.

The Holly Grove students developed a solution. They created a smart school bus stop sign and bus sensor that alerts drivers before a school bus arrives. The early warning, the students reasoned, will help prevent pedestrian accidents.

“They decided for their solution they wanted to not only create the school bus stop sign, but for it to be dynamic and interact with the school bus itself,” says Debbie Schelin, a teacher from Holly Grove Middle School. “So the wireless transmission from the bus reacts with the sign that’s on its route, and then begins to flash at 400 feet, then 200 feet, then red. So it alerts drivers where the school bus is and that the school bus is close.”

The students conducted a number of peer and parent surveys, school bus driver focus groups, and meetings with transportation directors, an engineer, city council members, and local law enforcement as part of their project research. Now, the community is reaping the benefits of their efforts: City officials are installing the smart stop signs in high-risk locations around the city.

Holly Grove Middle School also won this year’s Community Choice Award in the Samsung competition, the result of online voting. That means the students helped their school garner an additional $10,000 worth of technology and supplies.

To learn more about the winners of the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow challenge you can listen to the full episode in the embedded player above, or subscribe through Apple PodcastsGoogle PlayRSS, or your favorite podcast app of choice.

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