London Middle School team win state design challenge

A team of London Middle School students in grades 6-8 won the state title in the Ohio STEM Learning Network’s annual statewide design challenge.

(Posted May 16, 2023)

By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor

From an ebb and flow of ideas came a presentation that landed a team of London Middle School students a state title.

Each year, the Ohio STEM Learning Network hosts a design challenge that requires students to work together to create solutions to real-world problems using science, technology, engineering, and math. The contest is open to all schools in Ohio and all grade levels.

Four years ago, London City Schools created the Future Problem Solvers club at the middle school. The group of sixth- through eighth-graders meets throughout the school year to work on entries for the statewide design challenge.

Last year, a London middle-schooler won a student-choice award. This year, one of the club’s teams won one of the seven regionals, then took the top spot at state.

“For us to win the state competition, we’re just really excited about it,” said Dr. Lou Kramer, London City Schools superintendent.

This year’s challenge had participants coming up with security solutions in the cyber, energy, disaster, and health realms. Elizabeth Landingham, London’s club advisor, said it was fun to watch the students exchange ideas and float between groups as their interests and inspirations fluxed. Sometime in February, the teams coalesced, each taking on one of the security categories.

“We can only submit one entry (to the contest). We start with a school showcase in March to decide which team’s project we are going to submit to the regional hub,” Landingham said.

Members of London Middle School’s championship design team participated in virtual interviews with judges at the regional and state levels of the Ohio STEM Learning Network’s design challenge.

A team that chose cyber security won the local showcase. The group developed a software system that could protect against cyber attacks and safeguard personal information. They submitted their presentation–covering their research, design cycle, and solutions–then took part in virtual interviews with the regional judges. After they won the regional, they repeated the process for state.

The months-long lead-up to that point was chaotic at times, team members said, as they worked through ideas, personnel changes, and conflicting schedules.

“It all worked out,” said sixth-grader Sarah Spohler.

Each team member came away not only with new STEM knowledge but also a better understanding of team dynamics.

“Everybody isn’t great at everything. Each of us worked to our strengths to make it all come together,” said Sydney Powell, an eighth-grader.

Sixth-grader Allie Webb played a lead roll in shaping the team’s presentation. Sawyer McKenzie, also a sixth-grader, served as the main actor in the video. Others took responsibility for various information slides and the like. Eighth-grader Mila Powell thinks these efforts made the difference.

“I learned how important presentation is because I think we stuck out to the judges. We stood apart from the others,” she said.

The group said they didn’t go into the competition expecting to win but, of course, are thrilled they did. In hindsight, they joked that the music they chose to play at the end of their presentation foretold the outcome.

“We picked ‘We Are The Champions’ as our credits theme song,” said eighth-grader Julia Mullins with a smile.

London Middle School Principal Michael Belmont arranged a school-wide assembly on May 8 to recognize the winning team. London Mayor Patrick Closser presented each team member with a proclamation.

In addition to those already mentioned, the winning team’s members include: Naudia Garrett, Ta’kia Harris, Rachel Jackman, Grace Lotton, Bailey Pridemore, and Josie Ruble.

On May 12, the Ohio STEM Learning Network announced the challenge question for next year’s statewide contest: How do we improve the health and well-being of astronauts aboard Starlab orbiting the earth?

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