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Two Wisconsin Schools Advance to Second Round of National STEM Contest

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

The Wisconsin School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (WSBVI) and Omro High School were recently selected to advance into the second round of Samsung’s Solve for Tomorrow Contest.

According to a Samsung Electronics Inc. press release, top teams in each state were selected for their outstanding activity plan proposals outlining how students will execute their STEM projects. This year, students and teachers identified issues that are personal to them and critical to their communities.

As the first school in the nation to use existing technologies to make informational and directional signs accessible, Tim Fahlberg, a math teacher for the WSBVI, shared the excitement he and his students are feeling having advanced in the contest. “The most exciting thing about this contest for us is that it has not only does it bring honor & recognition to our students, school, center, state, and will give us some great technology and curriculum, but this recognition will help promote the goal we have to help make all schools and other places more accessible through smart digital signage and not only for blind & visually impaired, but also to anyone with a print disability, to the deaf.”

Rob Turner, a science engineering and computer teacher at Omro High School shared the same level of excitement. “I’m super proud of the kids that I have at this level and their ability to push past some of the more challenging aspects of something like this,” he said. “Now that our name is back out on that national level, the kids are really invested in the outcome.”

This is not the first time Rob Turner has had students make it this far in the contest. “I’ve had kids submit ideas as a regular part of the curriculum in my engineering course,” he said. Each year, he starts with all students submitting ideas based on Samsung’s general requirement of solving a problem in the local community and then through class discussion and facilitation, they narrow down their ideas to the best ones.

Two of their three ideas made it through the first round of the contest, with one idea for a robot that can safely measure ice thickness, making it through to this second round. As part of the Lake Winnebego system, there is no shortage of news stories about people or vehicles falling through the ice. “They want to get data back from the robot safely. Some kids have had family members or people they know fall through,” Turner said.

The schools are two of the 100 teams nation-wide chosen to move forward in the contest. In order to advance through the final rounds, each school is tasked with creating a prototype of their STEM project and create a video to outline their progress. Judges will review the videos to narrow the pool to the top 20 teams in March.

In their video, the Omro High School team plans to demonstrate the full engineering design process. From brainstorming to testing their prototype, they will end up documenting many hours of footage to condense into the required three-minute video for the contest.

The WSBVI team video will demonstrate how smart digital signage has improved access to signs and artwork in their school and show how they created, tested, and received feedback on the free NaviLens School Kits that they are designing.

For now, both schools look forward to choosing new technology and classroom materials from a Samsung $15,000 prize package.

If they are named as one of the top 20 teams in March, they will receive a $50,000 prize package with a trip to a pitch event.