Kids’ Science Challenge – Down to the Wire!

Some of you may have been following the SPC’s involvement with this year’s Kids’ Science Challenge, a nationwide competition for third to sixth graders to participate in hands-on learning about science and engineering. This year’s challenge included three topics to choose from: 1) Animal Smarts: come up with an activity for captive animals to utilize their wild instincts; 2) Meals on Mars: invent a creative way to produce, cook, deliver, or grow food on Mars; and 3) Zero Waste: develop a packaging idea that does not end up in the landfill.

The Kids’ Science Challenge received 1,436 entries across all three challenges combined, with 395 for the Zero Waste Challenge. All these entries had to be evaluated and that task fell on a group of preliminary judges including educators and other folks from Cyberchase (the PBS educational television series for children age 6-12 that teaches children discrete mathematics), Mythbusters, and the Exploratorium in San Francisco, California. These good folks did the hard work of reducing the nearly 400 entries in the Zero Waste Challenge down to a manageable set of semifinalists for the group of packaging judges, which I am a part of. Our input will be combined to determine the finalist(s), and this year’s winners will be announced in early May. The students with the winning entries will get to visit a team of scientists and engineers for a day to make their experiment or prototype come to life.

In the meantime, I’d like to share the following insights taken out of context from the project descriptions submitted by the kids purely to show a common story that reveals some big topics we all grapple with. Enjoy!

  • “One of the biggest problems these days is there is too much trash!”
  • “We get our paper [newspaper] in a bag every day, so it made me think of where that plastic goes after we get done with it.”
  • “The Earth needs to be able to have no pollution on it. Plants and animals have been getting sicker and sicker because of pollution and it’s terrible! That is the main reason why I made this idea.”
  • “It is really important to reduce the waste to keep our earth cleaner and healthier for ourselves and for generations to come.”
  • “We came up with the idea by brainstorming and writing our ideas on a piece of paper.”
  • “We were brainstorming when we laid [our] eyes on one of our classmate’s beautiful lunch bags and POOF, the vision came to our minds.”
  • “I decided on the topic Zero Waste, because I love nature and I love trees. I hope my idea could protect nature and save the trees.”
  • “I realized that nature had come up with a perfect package [oranges and bananas].” So why even make it [packaging]?

Here are some new made up materials and terminology from the kids for all the marketing and branding folks out there:

  • Phytoplastic: plastic that could be made from post harvest wheat and corn straw
  • Biopotastic: plastic that could be made from potato processing waste
  • Biococoplastic: plastic that could be made from coconut husks
  • Weg: Super strong material that could be made from spider silk. Of course WEG also stands for Webs Ending Garbage because the material will be composted or recycled.

In the end, one kid’s phrase stuck in my noodle and I leave you with it. “All I’m trying to say is the product I thought of is a really good product.” Be sure to stay tuned for the announcement of the winners on May 2nd!

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