Something we are always striving for here at Fisher Science Education is helping students apply scientific concepts and principles into real-world applications. The STEM Design Challenge takes this to the next level for elementary and middle school students by testing their engineering, design, critical thinking and teamwork skills in an innovative way. Read on to see how students in the Allegheny County of Pittsburgh were able to apply all of these skills in a fun competition!
For the past six years members of Fisher Science Education and our parent company Thermo Fisher Scientific have partnered with local communities in what is known as the STEM Design Challenge. What this challenge seeks to accomplish is to get 4th-8th graders to brainstorm, develop and implement a solution to an engineering problem using K’NEX building materials. The problem is usually pretty vague such as “Construct an object that can move an item one foot” so students are forced to use their imagination and think of their solution in unique ways. This year students were tasked with building a structure that was one meter high and that could hold weight. The rules are always the same however, each team is only allowed to use 1,400 K’NEX pieces and they must complete their build in two hours. On the day of the competition students bring their blueprints, building materials and a ton of enthusiasm as volunteers from Thermo Fisher Scientific mentor and coach students throughout the two hour build time.
This year’s challenge on April 6th had 91 teams participate, the most this local challenge has seen in all six years. We also had 65 employees from Thermo Fisher Scientific’s Pittsburgh office volunteer as judges and mentors! The turnout from both the students and volunteers made this challenge extremely memorable and rewarding for everyone who participated. The volunteers were just as excited about the competition as the students and all agreed that this is definitely an initiative they want to be a part of in the future.
There are two categories in the STEM Design Challenge, elementary students in grades 4th-5th and middle school students in grades 6th-8th. All of the teams in each category have the opportunity of winning 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and two honorable mentions based on their design and how it can be applied to real-world applications. Choosing the winners was not an easy task as the judges took their duty seriously in examining all of the students’ designs and scored them based on a rubric. In the end however, ten teams came out on top between the two categories and every team who received 1st place will go on to the state competition held in Harrisburg next month. Thank you to everyone who participated in this year’s STEM Design Challenge in Allegheny county and we’ll see you in Harrisburg!