Three teams from Pleasant Valley Elementary School were selected as finalists in the state’s annual STEAM Tank competition, in conjunction with the U.S. Army.
The teams were tasked to create, or re-invent, something that would solve a problem for someone else. The three teams created a keyboard that helped kids perfect their typing skills, a sleeping mask that eases someone into sleep and a durable arm rest to add comfort to most rectangular chairs.
“I’m so proud of them,” said Natalie Markey, coordinator for this year’s competition, along with Briana Miller of HTS. “I’ve given them minimal guidance. I’m answering their questions about the competition and the rules, but the creative part is on them. They roll with it and figure out how they’re going to do it.”
More than 40 groups from the district entered the competition, 11 were invited to regionals (seven teams accepted the invitation) and three were asked to return in October for the finals. Some of the other inventions included a re-vamped deer detector, an anti-slip blanket and a positive paws necklace.
Students Julian Lee, Shawn Zou and Jason Hicks created the keyboard cover. Their invention is also biodegradable, non-toxic and recyclable.
“Typists can work one-by-one on each row or combination of rows and improve their efficiency for typing,” Zou said. “It’s also double-sided, one side is pink, which is not see-through, and the other side has colorful keys in line with the fingers – that side helps the beginner.”
Hicks said they were inspired by a keyboard website that showed an on-screen keyboard, and the trio wanted a physical component of it instead.
Isabelle Siedman said she and Eliana Matz came up with the sleep mask after brainstorming ideas for the competition. She added the mask has slots for ear phones to be inserted into and gel eye pads for comfort.
“I didn’t think we’d get in,” said Siedman about getting to the finals. “Eli ran into class one day when I was doing DuoLingo and screamed ‘we got in the second round!’ and I must’ve screamed at least 10 times.”
For the girls who put together an arm rest – Kaelin Dolan, Giuliana Pascale, Giada Marino and Sofia Morales – they said they were inspired by the “uncomfortable school chairs and wanted to make them better and more enjoyable.”
“It is 100 percent recyclable,” said Dolan. “We used seaweed foam for the squishy part. It looks much neater – we originally had hot glue and Velcro. It’s sewed like a sleeve and looks much neater.”
Markey added with the new Innovation and Design STEM-like program, it was easier this year to get students interested in the competition and allowed them to test their creations.
“They were more motivated because we were doing design challenges on a weekly basis leading up to this,” said Markey. “I think by starting out the year in this class, they had that way of thinking more innately.”
She added she and Miller only gave the students guidance on what the rules and regulations were for the competition and had the students take care of every other portion.
At the competition, Markey added the students were also able to learn about the different presentation styles each age group had, and figure out what worked best for them.
“Kids don’t always have that opportunity to see that,” she said. “It’s valuable for them to be able to see how other kids did things.”
Markey said the students were given a list of dates to follow to help keep them motivated for the October finals, but most of the work is at home, which the students recognized.
“It was awesome seeing them in that venue, getting up there and pitching their ideas, dressed professionally and seeing something that they made develop into something that could be developed into a working model,” said Markey.