Next month, middle school students will begin developing their plans to change the world as Young Innovators, the newest youth STEM program in the Piedmont Triad. This is a program developed and implemented only in the Old North State Council (for now) that brings middle school boys and girls together to save the world…one STEM project at a time!
In the Young Innovators program, middle schools host groups of 8-10 boys and girls called Innovation Teams that work together to solve STEM-related problems that impact the world. In designing and developing their projects, they not only learn scientific principles, they also learn how to develop a budget, write a grant, work as a team, think outside the box, and most importantly, they learn how they can impact the world around them.
The program was implemented in four schools of the Piedmont Triad in the 2015-2016 school year as a pilot phase. Three schools in Guilford County (Brown Summit Middle, Southeast Middle, and Mendenhall Middle) and a charter school in Roxboro (Roxboro Community School) were part of the pilot phase which included 8 teams of 87 youth, about half of them young women. Don’t let the fact that they are in middle school fool you though…these creative thinkers had awesome projects including a self-watering greenhouse, a device that charges your smart phone as you take steps, a new method to filter heavy metals out of water using banana peels, and quite a few more! This fall, several new schools will be added to the program including Allen Middle School, Graham Middle School, and The Academy at Lincoln…just to name a few.
There are several aspects of the Young Innovators program that come together to make the program and the teams successful. First, they must review the established categories of STEM-related issues to decide what type of problem they want to solve. Then they must begin discussion and research to decide on a specific project idea. Once they have spent some time together working on those tasks, they elect their peers into several leadership roles that mimic what you might find on a scientific research team. These include the Project Manager who is the overall leader, the Chief Researcher, the Lab Manager, the Technical Manager, and the Safety Manager. All of these roles are critical in the success of the team. Then they must prepare a budget including all materials to develop the project and write a grant proposal. Thanks to the support of the Carter Family STEM Initiative, there are funds available (up to $300 per team) to provide the materials for the projects. Once their grant is approved and the funds are distributed to the team, they begin development of the project. Finally, there is a competition in May which brings all of the teams together to show off their work! New this year, the program has added expert STEM mentors who will be available to advise the teams on specific fields that might be outside the teachers’ area of expertise. Also new this year is training that has been developed that will teach the young men and women how to develop budgets, write grants, how to use the Engineering Design Process, and proper public speaking skills.
It’s not too late to get involved in the program for the 2016-2017 school year. It only costs $25 to participate and financial assistance is available for those who need it. If you are interested in having the program at your middle school, let your principal know and send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org! Home school organizations are invited to participate as well!