Article | Beacon Villager

Students at Maynard High win 2nd place in Mass STEM Week Challenge

Check out this article in the Beacon Villager about Maynard High School’s second place win in the high school STEM Week Challenge, in partnership with PBLWorks, Partners In Health, and IBM iX.

Students at Maynard High win 2nd place in Mass STEM Week Challenge
by Melissa Southwell | December 16, 2020

A team of three Maynard High School students placed second in the statewide 2020 STEM Week Challenge hosted by Mass STEM Hub.

Elizabeth Freeman, Grace Charron and Morgan Booth, all juniors, designed an app called “Corona Navigator” in response to the challenge to design an app that would help slow the spread of COVID-19. The team’s app would work like existing navigation apps and identify both safe and high-risk areas to enable users to safely move about their communities.

The purpose of the challenge was to apply academic knowledge to solve real-world problems. Participants were evaluated by STEM industry professionals using four main criteria of the engineering design process: definition of the problem, depth of scientific understanding, use of data and human-centered design.

“Strong engineering happens when technology is the right solution for a problem,” said Andreina Parisi-Amon, Ph.D., director of partnerships at Mass STEM Hub.

She said the judges were impressed by the Maynard team’s data-based thinking and consideration of human behavior, both key factors to how public health officials are deploying solutions in the real world to the current pandemic. The team successfully put themselves in users’ shoes and clearly explained the functionality of the app and how it could slow the spread of COVID-19.

“We wanted it to be something that everyone would want to use,” said Elizabeth.

To do this, the team gathered data by surveying their classmates to find out whether they would be willing to use a different navigation app and whether they would go out if they could better locate safe activities and places.

Using this data, the team designed features of the app to help users be more informed about COVID-19 risk areas, make safe choices for their activities, and therefore feel less isolated.

The students designed how the app would function, what information it would show, how it would look and even how it would sound. They enjoyed recording actual sound bites such as “You are close to your destination. Please put your mask on.” and “You are entering a high COVID-19 area. Be cautious.”

Upon learning of their second place finish, the team was “super excited.” Elizabeth and Grace also won second place as a team last year and felt a huge accomplishment by repeating the achievement with Morgan, their new teammate.

As a prize for their top-notch work, the students won a visit to IBM to speak with professional app developers, which will be done virtually this year.

“I’m definitely looking forward to it. They’re going to teach us about app development, and I’m interested in that for a career,” said Grace.

Elizabeth and Morgan are also interested in pursuing STEM careers, in athletic science and infectious diseases, respectively.

Fostering friendship and learning

The three students entered the challenge as part of their extracurricular participation in Science Club, an outlet that furthers their mutual friendship and love for science.

“I am very proud,” said Valerie Cairns, biology teacher and leader of the Science Club. “They work outside of school, and I am happy they are being recognized for their good work.”

Cairns launched Science Club three years ago to give students an opportunity to discover the fun in science and that what they learn in school has an impact on the world around them. STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering, and math – touch everyday life, she said.

The team members agree the club is “one big happy family.” It is student run, Cairns listens to and supports their ideas, and their projects help improve the school and community.

“I joined Science Club because I am fascinated with science. It’s such an expanding field, and I want to learn all I can about it,” said Morgan.

Through the STEM Week Challenge and other Science Club activities, the students are seeing firsthand how deepening their understanding of science and data analysis can make a real impact on the world outside of school.

“I think we came up with an app idea that is a viable resource and isn’t just a project. If we were able to take the next step and make it into a real app, it would be a useful tool,” said Elizabeth.

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