Search form

ExploraVision Contest Sparks Students' Imaginations

From household helpers to intricate medical technology, the Toshiba/NSTA ExploraVision Awards program has inspired student research teams to develop some amazing creations.
Included: Information about how to register for this year's contest.

Looking for a way to get rid of some pesky non-native aquatic plants or eliminate blood clots in tiny capillaries? Some deep-thinking students have got the answers for you.

Those were just two of the first-place winning entries in the 2004 Toshiba/NSTA ExploraVision Awards program. The Toshiba Corporation and the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) sponsor the contest. Contestants work in two-to-four person teams, with a coach and sometimes a mentor, to develop inventions using scientific principles, existing scientific knowledge, and predictions for new technology based on current data. First-and second-place winners are selected from American and Canadian entries in grades K-3, 4-6, 7-9, and 10-12.

See More 2004 First-Place Winners
Descriptions of last year's first place winning projects and their Web sites can be viewed at 2004 First Place Teams.


Now in its 13th year, the ExploraVision contest is one of the largest K-12 science and technology competitions in the world. Last year, 4,377 entries were submitted, the majority (41 percent) in the grade 7 to 9 division. According to the contest's Web site, 96 percent of teachers rate the educational value of the ExploraVision contest as excellent.

The contest has inspired inventions from almost every area of science. Last year's first place winners in the grades 4 to 6 category, a fifth grade team from Cape Henry Collegiate School in Virginia Beach, Virginia, designed a plant remover device to seek out and destroy underwater, non-native plants that are hazardous to the environment.

The device uses a global positioning satellite and holographic technologies to find the invasive plants.

Janet Holden, the three-student team's coach and the school's director of lower-school science, said the idea grew out of the students' eagerness to invent something that would help the environment. Originally, students had discussed a way to remove oil from water, but during their research, they read about the harm non-native plants can do to the environment, and grew interested in that. "It took them about three weeks to get the design down, and figure out what would work," she said.

Dorian Mattrey of La Jolla High School presents his team's' project at the science showcase to Hideo Ito, chairman and chief executive officer of Toshiba America, Inc.

Unlike some schools, where students work on ExploraVision projects independently, the Cape Henry faculty members have built the project into the curriculum. All third graders are required to enter, and fifth graders are encouraged to participate as well.

"We block out eight weeks for the projects," according to Holden. "None of this goes home, because we fear parental involvement."

Cape Henry, a pre-K to grade 12 school, has been entering the contest for ten years. "There are very few science contests for elementary students," said Holden. "This meets all of our needs."

Holden said she likes that ExploraVision requires students to work as a team and problem-solve. "This is one of the few programs I know of where all students must work together on a project and present it together. A lot of the contests for younger students are individual projects. We want to be able to graduate a complete child -- one who is ready to work in teams."

Want to Enter?
For more information about the contest, requirements, and deadlines, see How to Enter or Education World's Contests and Competitions page.


For La Jolla High School in La Jolla, California, 2004 was the second consecutive year it produced a winning team. This year's four-person team, which won first place in the grade 10 to 12 division, presented plans for a biodegradable nanorobot, called the nanoclotterator (NCR), which could be injected into the body to dissolve blood clots in small capillaries.

Martin Teachworth, a physics teacher who coached the winning team, said he was uncertain what inspired the creation, although he knew the students had an interest in robotics.

Teachworth, who also coaches the school's science team, said he always is searching for opportunities for students to do more science, and the ExploraVision contest requires multiple skills.

Students pick their project topic, then decide how to break down the work. "I tell them to look for teammates who are good at organization, Web design, or research," Teachworth told Education World. "I think the idea is to get some really good kids and then get out of the way."

Members of the Cape Henry Collegiate School fifth grade team present their project at the science showcase to a news crew. The students, from left to right, are Evan Underwood, Katelyn Falk, and Josh Cooper.

Students do all their work outside of school, averaging between 30 and 40 hours each on the projects, he said. Teams checked in with him and a mentor, Dr. David Groce, a retired physicist from California Institute of Technology.

"After we won the first year, I told the kids, 'See, it's possible,'" Teachworth said. "When we won the second time, it was even better."

Both Teachworth and Holden said they would encourage more schools to enter teams.

"It's just a really good and valuable activity," Teachworth said. "It helps them learn to work as a group and do research."

"I do wish more schools would enter," Holden added. "Some teachers are reluctant to jump in, but the benefits for kids are extensive."

Contest Requires Multiple Skills

Among the ExploraVision contest's greatest benefits is that the projects involve a variety of skills, according to Linda Heller, director of corporate recognition programs for the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA). "Students use computer skills, language arts, mathematics, art, and social studies knowledge," Heller told Education World. "The contest also requires the application of scientific inquiry, by asking students to think how technology affects today's society."

ExploraVision also ties in with NSTA's mission and standards. "The contest promotes science and science literacy for all students," Heller added.

In developing their projects, student teams select a technology currently in use. They provide written and artistic descriptions of when and how the technology was invented, what it does, and how it works. Students then must imagine how that technology could change 20 years into the future, basing their projections on existing science. Students also must write about possible negative and positive consequences if their vision of technology should become a reality.

In ExploraVision's first level of judging, 24 winning teams are selected from six North American regions. Each member of a winning regional team receives a gift and their schools receive Toshiba laptop computers and software.

Next, the winning regional teams prepare Web pages describing their projects, and eight finalist teams are chosen. Members of those teams receive all-expense-paid trips to Washington, D.C. for themselves, their advisers, and their parents.

First-place team members each receive a $10,000 U.S. savings bond (or the equivalent Canadian savings bond), and second place winners get $5,000 bonds.

A committee including science educators, scientists, and engineers judges the projects. Among the factors considered in the judging are the students' creativity, their use of solid scientific knowledge, and how completely their entries are thought-out and researched, Heller said.

























Article by Ellen R. Delisio
Education World®
Copyright © 2004 Education World