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Toshiba's ExploraVision Launches Student Researchers


Curriculum CenterThe Toshiba/National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) ExploraVision Awards program, now in its 11th year, has become one of the nation's largest K-12 science and technology competitions. The program allows students to be creative as they use research and scientific principles to design inventions. Included: Education World talks with last year's winners. Plus how to register for this year's program!

Kids have been known to go to extremes to avoid taking baths. In one case, however, brainstorming ways to improve the bath experience led kids to a first-place award in an international science contest.

A team of three third graders from Oliver Wendell Holmes Elementary School in San Diego, California, drew up a design for a Bath Butler, a system that recognizes the bather when he or she walks into the bathroom, and then fills a soft-sided tub with water to the user's preferred level and temperature.

The Bath Butler team won first place last year in the kindergarten to third grade category of the Toshiba/National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) Awards. In that contest, students work in 2-4 person teams 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.


Topics for winning projects often are inspired by events in students lives. Diana Celle, a teacher whose son Kai was on the Bath Butler team, said he wanted a way to speed up bathing. My son doesnt like taking baths, Celle told Education World. He said it takes too long to get them ready.

As part of their research, the students went to a Home Depot store and a bath showroom, she said.

The two Canadian eighth graders who placed second in the 7-9 grade category got their idea for an advanced prosthetic arm from one boys experience maneuvering with a leg cast, said Margarita Leventis, head of science at Zion Heights Junior High School in Ontario, Canada. He and his partner began to think about what life is like for people with prostheses, and about what inventions could make their lives better. The Piezo-Sensory Arm they proposed would have a greater ability to feel and grip items than the current prosthetics, said Leventis. (Piezoelectricity is a coupling between a material's mechanical and electrical behaviors.)

Last year was the first year students from Zion Heights entered the contest, but Leventis said she is putting together another team for this year's event. The project taught them a lot, she said about last years winners. The contest is incredibly well-organized and it gives students the opportunity to combine so many skills.


Another team came upon its winning idea by chance. Four 10th graders from Jericho (New York) High School studied brittle starfish microlenses to determine how starfish lenses might improve optical computing. According to teacher Allen Sachs, who runs the research program at Jericho High, the students wanted a project involving computers, and they found an article about brittle starfish in a magazine.

The students were intrigued because brittle starfish have tiny crystals, which they use as eyes, on their arms, Sachs said, and the optical properties of those microlenses exceed those of any currently manufactured lenses. The students' research focused on how starfish lenses could be applied to optical circuitry.


Education World talked with a number of teachers who worked with last year's winning teams. They all said that among the pluses of the Toshiba contest are its requirements for extensive research and its stress on teamwork.

Within the context of my program, my ultimate goal is to get kids involved in scientific research, Allen Sachs said. This project stimulates learning of a number of skills that students can use in experimental research, and it provides extrinsic motivation. Also, in the real world, the team approach is used more and more often.

The contest gets kids interested in science and technology, and it encourages them to work as a team, added Celle. They learn to be responsible and to see a project through to the end.

The fact that students must develop a vision, based on existing data, of how technology will evolve also makes the contest more challenging. They have to be creative and they have to project ideas into the future, said Leventis.

I like the visionary nature of the program, Sachs added. It has kids looking into the future.

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.


Ellen R. Delisio
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