DuBOIS — A yearlong series of hands-on, authentic learning activities and challenges concluded recently with the final competition of the STEAM portion of the DuBois Area Middle School’s Leadership Academy, according to assistant Leadership Academy Coordinator Jeffrey Bellerillo.

“STEAM is a 21st century approach to education that incorporates aspects of science, technology, engineering, the arts, and Mathematics into a holistic method of learning whereby the students are engaged in thought-provoking questioning, research and design, and creative problem solving,” said Bellerillo.

“An added benefit to STEAM projects is open collaboration that employs each team member’s strengths and experiences to successfully accomplish the task. Students are challenged to think out of the box and also given the freedom to step outside of that box. In today’s society these are essential skills that employers are looking for to allow them to compete in the global marketplace.”

In conjunction with blended learning methods, students applied the skills of research and design, engineering, problem solving, and teamwork to a series of grade level challenges and a final collaborative challenge that required the students to take their skills to the next level.

The competition consisted of three grade level challenges:

• Sixth grade challenge: Students from teams T, U, and V competed against each other in the spaghetti/marshmallow tower challenge. The students were tasked with building the tallest free-standing tower using only spaghetti and marshmallows.

• Seventh grade challenge: Students from teams X and Y competed in the bridge building challenge. For this challenge, the students were tasked with building a structurally sound bridge from toothpicks and glue that could support the greatest amount of weight. Students were free to design and build a bridge type of their own choosing provided they complied with a strict set of specifications and building codes. Students began the challenge by researching bridge types, followed by the drafting of a set of blue prints to scale. Once approved, the students could begin construction and testing.

• The eighth grade challenge had students from teams G, H, and I competing in the rubber band powered car challenge. The goal was to research, design and engineer, and test a rubber band powered car that would travel the greatest distance. As with the bridge, students were required to draft blueprints and then build the car to spec. To ensure proper tracking, the students had to overcome some mathematical factors such as torque curves and precise geometric alignment of the chassis, axles and wheels in order to maximize peak efficiency.

Sixth grade Tower Champions consisted of Team V’s Garret Nissel, Carson Hitt, Ricky Clark and Hunter Hilliard with a height of 1 meter. Seventh grade Bridge Champions were Team Y’s Madelyn Crabtree, Kamryn Fontaine, and Emily Snyder with their bridge supporting a weight of 21 Kilograms. The eighth grade rubber band powered dragster winners were Team G’s Ashley Sandy and Kattera Patton with a distance of 10 meters.

The final and most complex challenge, which required both a high degree of engineering and collaboration among all members across grade levels, was the “Hyper-coaster,” said Bellerillo.

“This yearlong project involved the research, design, and engineering of a mini- rollercoaster built from straws. The goal was to design a mini-coaster that would allow a ping-pong ball to roll down the entire length of the track without derailing and then drop into a container,” he said.

The task of the Hyper-coaster challenge was to:

  • Work collaboratively across grade level to take advantage of each member’s special talents and expertise
  • Modify and reengineer all of the mini-coasters so that they seamlessly connected together into one large Hyper-coaster. The goal was the same as the mini-coaster challenge — to have a ping-pong ball roll from top to bottom without derailing.

Bellerillo said the championship challenges were a great success.

“The amount of problem solving, engineering and collaboration across all grade levels was truly inspiring, especially when it came to the Hyper-coaster challenge. With only two minutes left on the clock, the students’ leadership skills took center stage and together they were able to successfully complete the challenge,” he said.

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