Teachers win Microsoft hacking award

by Becky GINOS


FARMINGTON—Teaching science is a whole new world nowadays. With an emphasis on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) educators have to think outside the box to provide students with the tools they need to succeed in a high-tech future.

That creativity by a team of three Davis District teachers is what garnered them a prestigious first place award at Microsoft’s 2018 Hacking STEM Worldwide Competition at a recent conference in Redmond, Wash.

“We were supposed to come up with a ‘hack-a-thon’ idea,” said Centennial Junior High science teacher Jennifer Tullis. “Mine was Brain Gong and Tim (Robinett) was brain injury. One of our standards was preventing collisions.”

Although the assignment was to create a lesson for junior high students, Syracuse Elementary teacher Katie Brown joined the group. “She thought she could bring it down for elementary so we worked as a team on it.”

The event was two weeks long. “We had three days to come up with a prototype lesson plan idea,” said Tullis. “Microsoft does this big company-wide hack-a-thon where the employees compete as well. They combine forces with other people. The first week we trained on Microsoft technology. After that week we stayed for the second week and presented our ideas. Then Microsoft employees chose if they wanted to help. They’re experts in coding, etc. so there’s all sorts of things they can help with.”

Tullis said hacking is taking preexisting codes and changing them for a different purpose. “We took coding for a seismograph and changed it for a concussion demo. Tim took a preexisting Hot Wheels track and changed it to measure collision solutions to help cars slow down to help people in a crash. It was already there but he tweaked it so it was better.”

Their efforts didn’t stop at the end of the day either. “One night we stayed later than anyone else, even the engineers,” said Tullis. “We stayed up trying to make a brain out of Jell-O in Katie’s hotel bathtub. We got to do things we never thought we’d do.”

“When we talked about what we wanted to do we knew we wanted to connect a real-life situation to STEM,” said Farmington Junior High teacher Tim Robinett. “Something kids can relate to. Every kid is familiar with Hot Wheels. It engages them through something they already know.”

Robinett’s demonstration showed ways to mitigate or lessen the effects of a car crash. “With some basic digital components you run the cars down the track and they crash into a test box,” he said. “We want to engineer the cars so something absorbs the energy rather than the occupants. It gives kids some experience in coding and engineering mixed with physics during the process.”

Now that their project was selected, Microsoft will design and develop it. “We can use it in our classroom and they can use it,” said Tullis. “It’s in development already.”

“It’s pretty amazing considering it’s a worldwide affair,” added Robinett. “I feel fortunate that I got to go. I’ve felt from the beginning that every child deserves a STEM education. When you look at what kids are facing they need 21st century skills. You can’t just teach science anymore. Everything has advanced past basic concepts.”


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