The students in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) program run by teacher James Intrabartolo at the K-8 Oliver Street School, part of the Newark Public School District, have a lot to be proud of.
They learned March 25, 2014, that they had won $140,000 worth of technology equipment for their school — which will enhance its existing STEM program — through Samsung’s Solve for Tomorrow Competition.
Samsung Electronics America is headquartered in Ridgefield Park.
The students’ project, “Guarding the Water Supply,” was one of five national winners. They learned the news at a special session at Oliver Street School at which Superintendent Cami Anderson, Principal Doug Petty and other guests were on hand to see a video announcement recognizing the students’ work.
According to the school district, the Oliver Street School STEM team, composed of 18 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders, had been working on the project since last fall, when it began designing a system to reduce the amount of street garbage flowing into the Passaic River after heavy rains.
At the event, students explained to the superintendent how they had devised the idea, achieved a consensus, then researched, developed and created two prototypes of sewer grate inserts to catch the waste. They told her how they had tested the grates during a simulated storm, then made assessments and innovated based on how well the designs had worked.
The idea came through observation. The team members had seen all the trash that careless people had thrown into the street, and it wanted to do something about it. Through research, the students learned that when trash goes into sewers, it then gets into streams and rivers. The thought of rivers being polluted in that way disgusted the class. “We needed to find a way to keep the trash out of the rivers,” one boy said.
To complete their task, the students had to learn how to use Google SketchUp 8 to make models of the devices so they could determine the most efficient way to catch the garbage. They also learned Autodesk Inventor Professional 2013 a computer-aided design (CAD) program, to design the device.
The team went to Home Depot, which supported the group, to buy its supplies. Intrabartolo told NJTechWeekly.com he had brought in from home many of the tools the students needed to make the physical prototypes.
When the superintendent asked why one prototype was better than another, one student replied that the successful one had a simpler design that focused all the garbage into one spot. It caught more trash because it had more room, so it was easier for the trash to go into it, he added.
The successful prototype became Oliver Street’s contest entry, which several student representatives then presented to a panel of judges at the South by Southwest Education conference in Austin, Texas, earlier in March.
NJTechWeekly.com asked a youngster who had attended the event if the judges were tough. He told us they just kept asking questions about how the students came up with the idea and how they executed it, and that they thought they had answered the questions well.
Along with enthusiastic support from conference officials, the team received thousands of clicks from its home state and across the nation as the contest was crowdsourced through online voting. The students are hoping that their winning design can be put to actual use both in their own community and beyond, as the grate they have designed can be modified to fit any sewer system.
All five winning schools will be honored at a special Washington, D.C., ceremony on April 30. The other winners are G.W. Carver Middle School, Miami, Fla.; Sunburst Jr. High School, Sunburst, Mont.; Academy at Palumbo, Philadelphia, Pa.; and East Valley High School, Yakima, Wash.
The Oliver Street team explains and demonstrates “Guarding the Water Supply” in a contest video here.