Hillsborough County Middle School STEM Expo

I dropped in on the Middle School STEM Expo this morning. I met some very smart kids with a lot of very interesting ideas and projects! I have to admit it was sheer luck that I was able to attend the event. The school district did a blanket call out to parents alerting them to the event late Thursday. I was driving and missed the details. Googling and searching the school website left me with no information. Fortunately, two of the boys in my daughter’s carpool happened to know of it and clued me in on the details. I’m really glad they did.

The expo took over Middleton High School’s gymnasium and cafeteria. In the gym, they had an entire robotics exhibit setup and three different competitive events. Teams of middle school students designed and built robots to navigate a simple maze, drag race, and push a weighted sled up an inclined plane. I really enjoyed watching them compete. There were also a number of robotics themed research projects on display. My favorite was an endangered species tagging and census station which was explained to me by a student from Marshall Middle School. She had a working model demonstrating how polar bears, upon finding the station after being attracted by food, would be tagged and videotaped. The project was well researched, clearly thought out and seemed very practical. It took second place overall in the research judging.

In the cafeteria, students displayed other STEM related projects ranging from electronic and pneumatically driven models to floor standing ball contraptions. My favorites here were the VEX robotics teams from McLane Middle School. I’ve encountered them in previous years at FIRST LEGO League competitions as Team ViBots. Two of the team members spent about twenty minutes explaining their robotics institute and how they went about preparing for the VEX Robotics Competition. Not only did McLane field three teams in the competition, they qualified for the national tournament and then went on to compete in the World championship held last month in Orlando. They brought home several trophies. I was highly impressed with both their success and how articulate the students were in explaining their work.

The final item I found exceptionally interesting were the aquatic ROVs being driven around a kiddie pool outside. Students from Webb Middle School put these together in less than two weeks from PVC pipe, water noodles, and sundry other supplies. They received an equipment loan from the organization who sponsors the MATE’s Annual Florida Regional ROV Competition. The 7th Annual competition was held April 9th at Brevard Community College. The kids attended but did not compete. These kids demonstrated numerous ROV designs capable of navigating the pool under remote control and diving on command. It was a blast to watch!

Sadly, none of the pictures I took came out. I found a nice one by Scott Iskowitz at tbo.com. If anyone would like to contribute their own, I’d love to see them!

Robot dragsters at the starting line. Photo by SCOTT ISKOWITZ/STAFF Photographer, tbo.com

I came away from the event very enthusiastic about the state of STEM education in our area. I’m really hoping to see some of these kids at camp this summer!

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