Shark Tank Capstone Project Integrates STEM & Business

Many of you may have heard, or even watched about a popular television program called the “Shark Tank.” The
television program focusses on budding and aspiring entrepreneurs who pitch business ideas to potential investors (referred to as ‘sharks’). Given the popularity of the show, educators from Greco Middle School in Tampa, adopted the concept to formulate a similar competition focused on teaching middle school students about Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, or STEM and integrating that into a business setting.

As part of their final capstone project, 8th grade students from Greco Middle School were tasked to solve a challenging problem using STEM concepts to create a tangible product. The engineering capstone project is about applying engineering, science, math, and technology to solve complex, open-ended problems in a real-world context. Students focus on the process of defining and solving a problem. Students learn how to apply STEM knowledge and skills to make the world a better place through innovation. The knowledge and skills students acquire throughout Capstone project come together as they identify an issue and then research, design, and test a solution, ultimately presenting their solution to a panel of engineers who ultimately will constructively critique their final projects.

To solve the challenge, students were divided into groups, or an individual company that created a new, innovative product which would be deemed valuable in real-world settings. At the conclusion of the project, each company was evaluated individually by the Sharks (or evaluators and investors) on their final product, research, prototype and all business information, leaving the ultimate decision on the sharks to invest a fictional fortune on these ideas. Final engineering capstone presentation consisted of a 10 min presentation per group at the Middleton High School auditorium in Tampa. After the presentation students had a complementary poster/show case presentation and judges had the opportunity to ask questions. Questions from the judges panel included areas of design, development process, technical aspects, project management, and marketing considerations.

FLATE was invited to serve as one of the ‘Sharks’ for this 8th grade capstone project. Dr. Marie Boyette,
FLATE’s Associate Director and Danielly Orozco, FLATE curriculum coordinator were among the 11 ‘Sharks’ who interviewed the 12 student groups and asked questions about the projects, and then evaluated and individually scored the different projects. Some of the most innovative projects included a unique crutches’ support system, portable photovoltaic battery charger and case, coolant system to avoid overheating, innovative “cozy” cups to keep beverages cold, flexible food tray for any type of cars, protective device for sport shoe “spikes”, robotic arm to hold different size of cups. Scored topics included professional attire, appropriate and accurate use of STEM terminology, projected/potential impact of business concepts on society, content, and realistic and creative ideas. “It’s a relevant and fun application of STEM curriculum” remarked Dr. Boyette.

Also attending the presentation were upcoming 6th and 7th grade students who filled out peer evaluations for the 41 students who presented. These same students and their teacher attended FLATE’s “ET Experience” on the HCC Brandon campus earlier this year where robotics and the engineering design process were presented, and students were introduced to FLATE’s high-tech engineering technology lab at HCC. “It was good to see the same students again with completed projects” said Dr. Boyette.

When Dr. Boyette first assessed these projects at HCC, four of the groups she spoke with had planned to manufacture their products outside of the U.S. in order to take advantage of ‘cheap labor.’ At the time, 
Dr. Boyette had had the opportunity to explain the importance of keeping manufacturing in the U.S. for a variety of reasons which included good jobs for American workers and environmental regulation which the United States is America typically known for maintaining cleaner manufacturing processes. For the final projects, three out of four groups had changed to American manufacturing. There are still myths and misperceptions about the advanced manufacturing industry; Dr. Boyette felt that the “Shark Tank” project gave her a chance as a “Shark” to be vocal about this issue and say to a project which chose to manufacture their product outside of the US, “for that reason … I’m out!”  Upcoming 6th and 7th graders also attended the presentation since they will be doing the project next year, and FLATE/HCC will look forward to hosting a new group of students.

For more information on the capstone project and this year’s Shark Tank Competition contact Elizabeth Simpson, engineering STEM Academy Lead Teacher at Greco, at Elizabethe.Simpson@sdhc.k12.fl.us, or 813.486.6737. For information on FLATE’s STEM based resources visit www.madeinflorida.org and www.fl-ate.org, or contact Dr. Marilyn Barger, executive director of FLATE & Dr. Marie Boyette, associate director at barger@fl-ate.org and boyette@fl-ate.org