On a Facebook Live channel, science and engineering teacher Rob Turner and his team of Omro High School students learned that they were one of the five winners of Samsung’s national Solve for Tomorrow Contest. After advancing through all three levels of the competition, the Omro High School team answered questions from the judges in the final round of the competition about their robot that can traverse ice with a sensor to measure ice thickness in real-time.
“We were the fifth to be announced live,” Turner said. He spoke with the students over Zoom after the announcement. “Some of the kids-- their hope was fleeting, but I set them up the day before understanding that they already won 50 thousand dollars and were the top of thousands of schools. They were all freaking out when they heard.”
The Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Contest requires participants to show how science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) can be used to solve a local problem. As a community that is part of the Lake Winnebego system, ice fishing is a way of life, and falling through the ice is always a danger. The high school team learned the engineering design process and collaborated with scientists and other experts throughout the school year to develop their prototype.
Due to the pandemic, the team had to meet virtually to prepare for the final competition. This also meant the in-person competition in New York had to be canceled. “They did an awesome job rising to that really unorthodox challenge,” Turner said. “As a teacher, you try to prepare them for most of the challenges they will run into, but no one could have predicted this. They did a really good job answering the questions the judges had for them.”
The judges were most interested in the mechanics of how the robot works and plans for the future for continuing with this type of technology. Judges were impressed with the fact that the kids had a solid, functioning prototype.
According to Turner, several students will continue to work on the prototype. They applied for a grant program from MIT which could help them refine the prototype and work toward opportunities for patents.
When asked how the prize money and equipment will be used, Turner said that $50,000 will go toward new Samsung brand materials, and the other $50,000 will go toward classroom supplies as they continue the process of creating a fabrication lab in the district.
Turner is equally excited about next year’s students and the competition. “Every year, I’m amazed at the ideas they come up with. I’m in the background helping them. I’m less of a person that stands up there and tells you how the world is and more of a person guiding you on a journey learning of how the world is,” he said. “It’s not just the big schools that come up with really good ideas. It’s about letting kids run with their creativity.”
This is not the first time Omro High School has advanced to the final portion of the contest. In 2017-18, another group of Turner’s students made it to the top 10.