Four sixth-graders at Camerado Springs Middle School in Cameron Park have a nice chunk of change from their science project that took a first-place award in a recent regional competition, called eCYBERMission. But more importantly, the entire classroom of teacher Austin Smith learned valuable lessons about water conservation and the rich reward of lifelong knowledge about how to help the environment of the planet we call home.
The kids on the winning team are Brandon Bartosh, Delaney Lardie, Isabella Stone and Jake Penman, and in addition to taking top honors in the Web-based contest sponsored by the U.S. Army’s Education Outreach Program, the four made their classmates proud.
“My heart skipped a beat,” said classmate Ethan Layfield, describing what many likely felt when they heard their class had won.
Other heads nodded in the room at Ethan’s words and then it was mentioned that not only did Camerado win the top prize, but the second-place spot also was filled by four familiar faces: classmates Elijah Mendoza, Logan Lardie, Korinna Kemp and Jordyn McPherson.
Austin proudly explained that the class was tasked with competing online to solve a problem involving water conservation. In the current drought that is making all Californians conscious of the importance of every precious drop of water, the contest couldn’t be any more relevant, the students agreed.
In addition to applying time to their project in school, the winning team members spent time outside the classroom working on their prototype invention — a fact unknown to their teacher until later.
“They came in during their spring break to prepare for the regionals and even met outside of school without me knowing,” said Austin. “I’m very proud of the students primarily because of the hard work and creativity they put into their project.”
Austin explained that the challenge for the student teams was to create solutions to the water shortage caused by the drought. From there, it was up to the students to ponder the problem and come up with solutions.
“They took the challenge seriously and made good use of online resources, particularly the El Dorado Irrigation District Website — and all the teams came up with creative ideas,” Austin recounted.
The chief sponsor of the STEM contest (acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), the U.S. Army, might seem a bit odd at first blush, but the kids’ teacher explained.
“The Army wants kids who are diversified, with knowledge in the sciences,” said Austin, who has taught 12 years at Camerado, 18 total in the Buckeye Union School District. This was the second year he has asked his students to participate in the competition and the effort paid off — literally.
“Each student on the first-place team was given a $1,000 savings bond and the second-place winners each was awarded a $500 bond,” said Austin.
And the payoff for the planet is incalculable as youngsters go forth with their classroom knowledge, pursuing careers that may employ the sciences or simply with the groundwork firmly in place to make them more responsible stewards of the Earth regardless of career path or future plans.
Here’s what the winning team came up with: A system that takes bath water, transfers it into a container where it is boiled, then comes out through tubing into another container after it has been purified to the point where it can be used again, for landscape irrigation or other “brown water” needs.
Called the “Water Reuser,” the invention was demonstrated for the Buckeye school district’s board of trustees at the May 21 meeting. The students were presented their awards during a school assembly the day before, sharing the honor with the entire student body and school staff.
The second-place entry involved a device that collected rainwater that flowed down a straw and into a balloon that then was placed underground for storage, again emphasizing the theme of water conservation.
There were some 29,000 students competing in the nationwide Web competition, with Camerado’s winners taking prizes in the regional portion. The results of the effort of all the students at Camerado School leaves their teacher understandably gratified.
“When I was notified of their awards, I felt quite pleased that a project we had spent so much class (and homework) time on had received validation,” Austin said. “As a teacher, I most enjoy projects that apply the curriculum to real-world problems. The recently adopted Next Generation Science Standards include an engineering component, which matches perfectly with the goals of the eCYBERmission.”
Austin said next year’s sixth-graders likely will be inspired by this year’s results and he looks forward to continuing with the contest.
As a poster that hangs at the front of the classroom puts it: “Shoot for the moon — even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”