FLATE's Executive Director Celebrates "sTEm At Work"

Putting a practical spin on sTEm is important to FLATE. The low energy approach to this renewed national interest in STEM is to leave each of the four components in its traditional environment, and then isolate the funding, effort, and signs of success to each separate silo. FLATE's view is that science and mathematics must be blended to support the engineering needed to create and then maintain a technology. With this as a guiding thought, FLATE participated in and supported two important annual University of South Florida events in February that celebrated this integrated effort to make sTEm really work. Both activities encouraged students of all ages to get excited about STEM “stuff”, and put it, or see how it has been put to work. In both events, invention, engineering, and enterprise were stars in a sky of technology, and each hosted record participation in 2011. The final competition of the Young Inventors Cup took place on Feb. 11 (ironically Thomas Edison’s birthday), and the 39th USF College of Engineering at USF Engineering Expo took place Feb. 18 –19.

The Young Innovator Competition, sponsored by USF and Innovation Express, a not-for-profit organization, drew nearly 500 submissions spread between three levels of competition. Students from elementary through high school competed for this year's Inventor’s Cup. The five finalists from each division actually made a prototype of their invention. In addition, finalists gave during the last stage judging which is also open
 to the public, a two minute presentation to promote their idea to a panel of distinguished judges that included media celebrities and business leaders. Each division winner and their school received a $1000 prize. Competition rules were designed with the teacher in mind. FLATE crafted a workshop for teachers to help them get started, and showed how easy it is for teachers to bring this activity into their classroom as an integration piece for science and math lessons. Submitting ideas online was easy. However, an invention did not get very far through the multiple layer judging process if it was not unique. Inventors were required to submit design and manufacturing details, business plans, cost of the new invention and its expected selling price. The overall competition was targeted to blend inquiry, exploration, critical, and systems thinking with the appropriate age level knowledge in science and math to support the engineering needed to create the invention from the applicable technology. You can learn more about the 2011 competition and winners, and how to participate in 2012 at www.innovationexpress.org. Kudos to the Hopens, father and daughter, as competition founders for making this competition a reality in Tampa Bay.

On a similar token, the 2011 USF Engineering Expo drew a huge record crowd, nearly 18,000 students and parents from all over the Tampa Bay region. This free, student-run event featured displays by engineering companies, STEM programs at local schools including Pinellas County’s D.L. Jamerson Elementary School's Center for Mathematics and Engineering, and Hillsborough County’s middle school STEM institutes and high school academies. The expo featured a variety of “shows” ranging from laser lights to science “magic,” as well as STEM and engineering activities for students of all ages (hosted by the many engineering student organizations). The indoor/outdoor event had a county fair ambiance, and provided lots of space for children to explore, and have fun as well as visit various engineering college laboratories. Students could compete in drag races, ride a TECO cherry picker, and explore both the manmade and engineering wonders of our world, it was very easy for them to talk to technicians, engineers, and scientists to see why things work and how these people make things work as well.

If you are going to be in Tampa next February, make sure your plans include attending or getting involved with one, or both of these events. However, to borrow a famous phrase, "but now for something completely different,” it is time for you to catch up with FLATE news. You can try our latest sTEm puzzle, take advantage of a “FREE” faculty development seminar for STEM educators offered by City University of New York, read about the fascinating Florida Manufacturer or the Year Awardees, their products and production processes, and about a state-of-the-art mobile laboratory at Florida Gateway College. I hope you enjoy this edition of the FLATE Focus.