Ross Schoool Students Test Out Engineering Challenge For National Geographic Kids

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Ross School students were put to the test in February when they were tasked with solving engineering challenges for National Geographic Kids magazine.

More than 20 students were asked to test drive three different challenges as part of the magazine’s Engineering Exploration Challenge program before they are announced in the magazine’s April issue.

Over a week and a half, students from Ross’s Innovation Lab @Ross—an academy within Ross School for students who are advanced in math, science, technology, engineering and media—were asked to construct a camera that could withstand an attack from an animal, a camera that could be raised and lowered into a forest canopy and to design a wearable power system that could generate electricity to charge devices while out in the field.

The fourth through twelfth grade students went through the entire process from research to design to execution and testing, according to Dr. David Morgan, the director of the Ross School Innovation Lab and the dean of science at the school.

“There were a lot of interesting, bold ideas that had to be scaled back and very simple ideas that wound up being very successful,” he said.

Some students decided to raise their camera with a remote controlled helicopter, but others were not so savvy. Some students decided to raise their camera over a tree limb with a rope, but the camera got heavier as it got higher, so they had to add more string to the end of the rope, Dr. Morgan said.

“Our solution was attaching two ropes, with an anchor on both sides, to the sides of the box with the camera in it, and bungee cords around the box and foam inside to support the camera,” said Sara Stewart, a Ross School sophomore.

She said the idea was to take one side of the rope and throw it over the 10 foot branch and catch it on the other side. Then the rope is pulled until the box with the camera is on top of the branch, which is then clipped to a nearby or anchor.

“Our project may not be super elaborate, but it is effective and it gets the job done,” she said. “We weren’t going for an extravagant result, just one that works and anyone could put together, whether they have $20 or $2,000.”

Senior Caitlin Cummings said her group’s project didn’t go as planned.

“Trying to convert our plans into reality was much more difficult than I anticipated,” she said.

The challenge to create a power-generator intrigued a lot of the students according to Urban Reininger, the director of Instructional Technology.

“Even though they got the initial voltage, they wanted to see that through and were interested in making it a longer term project,” he said. “Coming out of that now they’re thinking about battery systems and what can be powered with that—mobile phones, cameras—it made them think of a longer-term project, which I would love to see.”

Senior Selena Garcia-Torres said the challenge was made fun by her peers who put their heads together.

“The most fun about doing this challenge had to be working on a group project with everyone in the Innovation Lab,” she said. “A lot of the time we are working on independent projects, so having that time together with all of students in the Innovation Lab to create a solution to a problem was really fun.”

According to Dr. Morgan, National Geographic Kids selected Ross School students because the Innovation Lab was the perfect setting for the challenge.

“I think they saw the Innovation Lab as a ready-made locale where a group of students are used to being asked to design and build things,” he said.

According to Kathleen Schwille, the vice president of education design and development for National Geographic, education review has always been a part of the company’s process before they launch new programs.

“We asked Ross School to participate in the assessment of this project because we recognize a great deal of synergy between our philosophies, which is specifically evident in programs like the Innovation Lab @Ross,” she said in a statement.

Dr. Morgan said the students will participate in a world-wide Skype event hosted by National Geographic.

“It’s exciting for the kids,” he said. “The Innovation Lab is in its second year this year and we’re really looking to show the world what we can do.”

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