Middle & High School Students Enhance Understanding of STEM Through Hands-on Projects

The 2015-2016 academic year has been an educationally stimulating time as middle and high school students in the School District of Hillsborough County have had the opportunity to work on various in and out-of-class STEM projects. These projects are targeted not only to spark students’ interest in STEM through hands-on learning experiences, but also garner a firm understanding of each of these concepts, their applications in day-to-day operations and in a broader context learn about the Science, Engineering and Technology involved in manufacturing products en masse. In keeping with this goal, students from Buchanan Middle School in Tampa recently worked on a manufacturing project that entailed designing and building a dinosaur puzzle.

As part of the 7th grade class project that teaches students about manufacturing and advanced
scientific concepts, 44 students from Buchanan Middle School were entasked to design a dinosaur puzzle. Students had to make cutouts and then reassemble the cutouts to make the puzzle. The idea, according to Walter Watts, who is currently the bio-engineering academy technology teacher at Buchanan, was to create an automated manufacturing plant that could assemble the dinosaur puzzle without people/manual labor involved. For the project, students worked in teams for three weeks. They had to learn pseudo coding and then brainstormed ideas and designs to create an automated assembly line, as well as formulate a pseudo code on how everything works. Students worked for three weeks to complete their projects which culminated in a class presentation for each group of students.

In addition to students at Buchanan, students at Greco Middle School and Middleton High School also worked on various STEM projects. At Greco, students participated in the annual “Shark Tank” competition as part of their capstone project. The competition is modeled after the television show where aspiring inventors and entrepreneurs design a product and then pitch their product and business model to potential business partners and buyers. The “Sharks” or the investors evaluate the presentation, and base their decision to invest, or not, on a particular product based on the final product design, research, and prototype itself.

This year there were a total of nine “Shark” investors who evaluated 11 projects and business
proposals from 4-8th grade STEM students. Teams were evaluated on various metrics that ranged from the overall concept of the product, budgetary outline, completed prototype, project presentation that included PowerPoint presentations, talking points about the product/business and follow-up questions and answer sessions between the students and the “shark” investors.  

The students at Middleton High School also participated in the Engineering Capstone Final Project as part of the “Project Lead the Way” Pathways to Engineering program. A total of 11 projects were designed and presented by approximately 33 students. To complete their project each team had to identify a problem that they sought to resolve through an innovative design/invention. Similar to the other two schools, students worked throughout the year to build a case/thesis for their project, brainstormed solutions, and digitally designed their prototype, as well as built and tested their design concepts.

Following the guidelines laid out by Engineering Capstone Project- Lead The Way, each group of students provided an overview of their project to the judges. Danielly Orozco of FLATE served as a judge in each of the competitions at Greco and at Middleton High School, and provided professional insight/observation to each group about their design and viability of their product. The objective was to constructively critique and evaluate projects against real-world industry standards.

In all of this, the projects provided a hands-on the deck approach in giving students from each school
a better understanding about automation, product design, production as well as marketing their ideas in a real-world setting. Students learned how to write pseudo codes to perform a series of automated tasks and draft business proposals and pitches that are part of a technician’s and/or manufacturers’ everyday job in real world settings. “Problem based learning is the best way for someone to learn how to solve real-world problems and learn about manufacturing processes” said Watts. To that effect, the teachers at Buchanan, Greco and Middleton each look forward to working with FLATE in using its free resources, and leveraging the Center’s business contacts to set-up industry tours for students to enhance their experiential learning and understanding of business concepts and automated processes in high-tech production environments.

For more information on STEM based programs for middle and high school students in Tampa Bay visit the School District of Hillsborough County Website. For free STEM resources, curriculum, and professional development opportunities for K-14 educators visit the Made in Florida website and the FLATE Wiki, or contact Dr. Marilyn Barger, executive director of FLATE at barger@fl-ate.org