STEM Challenge proves successful

By Sebastian Graper ’19


The high school held its third annual UCFSD STEM Challenge, an event involving hundreds of students and staff dedicated to STEM education, on May 21. The Challenge first ran in 2016, with the aim of growing elementary schoolers’ interest in Technology Education and STEM.

Each year, a different challenge is posed to the groups of elementary students, along with scoring criteria and building materials. Students are encouraged to follow the engineering design process as they plan, build, test, and refine their solutions. Past challenges include designing a confetti launcher and water bottle balance, with this year’s being a lunar rover. Unionville STEM volunteers offer construction assistance, give advice to the students, and help with testing solutions.

Students were tasked with designing and building a vehicle using straws, pipe cleaners, cardboard, and other similar materials. Each material had an associated cost, and teams were required to stay within a specific budget. Ismael Qureshi, a fifth-grader, says that “He and [his] friends and had a lot of fun. [The STEM Challenge]  was really well organized.”

After construction, each team’s vehicle was released from a ramp, with final distance traveled past the ramp measured. Each team’s total price was divided by distance in inches to get an efficiency rating in dollars per inch traveled. Teams were then rated by their efficiency on a continually updated leaderboard. After each test, groups were encouraged to revise their design to travel further, or cut costs by using fewer parts.

This year, a total of 45 high school students volunteered over 200 hours designing the challenge, writing instructional packets, building supply kits and ramps, setting up for the event, supporting the students throughout the challenge, and cleaning up afterwards. Many important decisions such as provided materials, possible projects, and scoring criteria are made with input from current students.

Organization and design for the 2018 STEM Challenge was led by junior Paige Harlan and senior Veronica Hineman who are both currently enrolled in Computer Integrated Manufacturing(CIM), the third-year course of the high school’s PLTW engineering track. Ms. Hineman said that the most difficult part was deciding what materials to supply students and which criteria to use in judging the quality of solutions. Sophomore Adarsh Gadagkar said, “It was hard to keep all the kids organized… we also had to make sure they were all on task.” Junior Siddharth Panchanadam, also taking CIM, volunteered because he felt it was a good way to contribute and give back. When asked if he would have participated in the event if it were offered to him as an elementary schooler, he replied with a grin and a resounding “Absolutely!” Mr. Panchanadam played a major role in designing and constructing ramps for this year’s Challenge.

Tech Ed Department Chair Mike Berkeihiser said, “The Challenge introduces young students to the engineering design process and gives them an opportunity to develop their creativity, teamwork, and innovative thinking.” Fifth-grader Deepti Halthore said, “My favorite part was our teamwork when we worked together to build the vehicle.” With more than 70 teams of four students in attendance, a total of about 280 students, the 2018 STEM Challenge was a great success.

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