Monday, April 6, 2015

Stupendous STEM Programs

The Tech Museum's Tech Challenge

If I could make one program mandatory for all intermediate elementary school children, it would be the annual Tech Challenge sponsored by The Tech Museum of San Jose. 

In 2012, I was looking for a program that would challenge my son and stumbled on this program. I thought it had a great premise to begin with - a satellite lands on an asteroid, and three fragile instrumentation packages must be delivered to three different locations to conduct chemical analysis. We, my son's team of six boys and girls, decided to enter the 2013 Tech Challenge competition (running from fall of 2012 to spring of 2013). Since this was our first year, we had no idea what we were getting into, except that it seemed like a fun project to do.

Well, over the course of six months, our team learned a lot about building a launch mechanism that would deliver the payloads (raw eggs encased in a protective covering) without damaging them, but most of all, they learned how to work effectively with others, even if they don't get along very well.

We competed again in 2014. This time, the challenge was extremely difficult. The premise of the project was that we were pretending to pump water, via wind power, over the Tehachapi Mountains in Southern California to deliver water to the people of Los Angeles area.

Our wind-powered water delivery device must pump 1 liter of water in 3 minutes. This was a very difficult project for our team of four boys. Our windmill just couldn't pump enough water fast enough. Week after miserable week, everything they tried failed, but they never gave up. The most proud moment of the tech challenge was the time when they asked to try one more solution when things failed at a test trial for 45 minutes straight, in front of judges, some audience members, and their parents.

A week later, we found a solution that worked beautifully. After the whole process, when I asked the team what they had learned this year. The boys said - we can never give up because you never know how close you are to finding a solution.

What a great lesson! Not for just a science competition, but for life. 

And we're doing it again this year.

I love this program for two reasons.

  1. It mimics the PLC process very closely, and it's a great way to get a feel for a career in engineering.  
  2.  It teaches some awesome life lessons, not by reading about them but by living them.
I try to get more kids to join this program whenever I get the chance. I wish I had written this piece in the fall so that more of you might have tried this program with your children, but it's never late. You can check it out this year and join the competition next year.

This year's competition dates are 4/25 (4th - 6th grades in the morning and 9th - 12th grades in the afternoon) and 4/26 (7th - 8th grades).

Why don't you come and join the fun? Admission is free. The award ceremonies take place at the end of their competition time slot.

For more information, please check out the link below.