By Stephanie Derammelaere
Imagination, creativity and innovation were clearly on display at Technology High School’s STEAM Showcase February 27. The event demonstrated the culmination of work that science and engineering students accomplished over the last couple months on projects addressing the theme of creativity in community, with an emphasis in the 10th grade on natural disasters.
The Showcase was modeled after the Sonoma County Office of Education STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) showcase, which will be held March 2 at the fairgrounds, with TK through grade 12 students from all over Sonoma County. Ten of the Technology High School projects were chosen to present at the Sonoma countywide showcase. The original theme of this year’s STEAM Showcase was systems and system models, but in light of the fire disaster to hit the county last fall, SCOE decided to add the theme “creativity in community,” for those who wanted to address this issue instead. The addition was designed to encourage students to develop STEAM projects that could address the community’s unique needs during the crisis as well as future needs – and make an impact beyond the classroom.
“They [SCOE] felt after the fires that they wanted to give people an opportunity to address such a timely and appropriate issue,” says Lisa Bauman, science and engineering teacher at Technology High School. “There’s so much to be done around what happened in our community that they felt this might be a great opportunity for students to feel like they could have an impact.”
Over 150 10th and 11th grade students at Tech High participated in the showcase, some individually and many in groups. Projects ranged from emergency preparedness for people with autism, to disaster drones, to a personal property inventory app, to a look at how wildfires have affected California watersheds. Enthusiastic students shared their experiences in creating and researching their projects, demonstrated the impact their project could have in real world applications, and spoke of which areas of STEAM were represented in their projects.
One team of 10th graders had the idea of creating an alarm system for the deaf – an idea borne out of the idea of the recent fires when people did not have ample warning when the fire storm hit.
“There are a lot of fire alarms out there but there’s not a portable one,” said Miranda Amazcua who developed the project with partner Pinkeo Phongsa and will be presenting it at the SCOE showcase. “So, we made a wrist band that would connect to a regular fire alarm via Wi-Fi. When your alarm goes off it sends vibrations according to your heart rate. If you’re sleeping and your heart rate is lower it will vibrate more aggressively to wake you up. Since deaf people also rely on sight we added a light feature. The lights are red, turquoise, blue and purple and it’s based on what kind of fire it is.”
Another project looked at creating a pool sprinkler system that homeowners could use remotely via an app. The system would use the homeowner’s pool water to douse the outside of their home in the event of an approaching fire. This would allow the homeowner to evacuate while minimizing damage to their home.
“The app has sensors that would be placed on heavy duty sprinklers around your house,” explains Ella Morgan, 10th grader and creator of the project who will also be presenting the idea at the SCOE showcase. “The sensors would pick up on heat, so if there’s a fire you would get a notification on your phone. Then you could turn on the sprinklers that would douse your home in water, which prevents 90% of fires. A lot of people stay during a fire even during mandatory evacuations to douse their homes with water but this would allow people to do that remotely from a different location. The reason I chose this is because pools typically have about 30,000 gallons of water whereas firemen, particularly in rural areas, only have about 500 gallons in their fire trucks which goes away so fast.”
Morgan hopes a system like this could keep more people safe, save homes, as well as help firefighters in their jobs of saving lives and property.
Teachers at Tech High encouraged their students to take the projects a step further and involve their communities into the projects, either by interfacing with possible experts or impacted organizations, or with potential end users of their ideas.
“One of the things we really emphasized in the 10th grade unit was that we really wanted students to make partnerships in the community,” says Bauman. “We wanted them to either identify and reach out to someone who could be an expert in a field similar to what they wanted to do and could provide them with good resources and information, or we asked them to reach out to someone who might be a user who would either use their product or would benefit from what their project was trying to accomplish.”
Including this focus made the projects more authentic and purposeful, not just involving a hypothetical situation. To that end many students made websites, invented engineering projects, created informational posters and pamphlets and identified environmental impacts of disasters. The group that developed the idea for the alarm system for the deaf, for example, facilitated a focus group of four deaf individuals with an interpreter.
“This really allowed kids to be creative in a very different way than what we used to do, which was a traditional science fair,” says Bauman. “By going with the theme showcase they were really able to tap into other areas that they may not have been able to tap into. A theme showcase is much more representative of 21st century learning skills. We don’t really know what kinds of jobs these kids are going to have available to them so they need to be creative thinkers and be able to collaborate. It’s definitely different than what they’re used to.”
The high school hopes to continue the showcase every year. The depth and breadth of creativity shown by the participating students was an encouraging look at what our future holds and undoubtedly many of these students will go on to solve many of our world’s problems.