Students Showcase Inventions at STEM Teacher Leadership Program Symposium

Finalists in the Honeywell STEM Challenge Presented Their Software Engineering Projects Designed to Drive Social Good at Georgia Tech

At the 2019 STEM Teacher Leadership Program (STLP) Symposium, students participating in the Honeywell STEM Challenge presented their engineering projects designed to solve real problems in their communities. Pettrus Konnoth and Divij Motwani, sixth-grade students at Autrey Mill Middle School in Fulton County, won first-place overall for their project, “Blind Sight.”

The Honeywell STEM Challenge is one component of STLP at Georgia Tech, a partnership between Honeywell, the Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics & Computing (CEISMC), and metro Atlanta schools. It is an innovative software engineering and computer training program that introduces advanced teaching techniques to middle and high school teachers. The program was announced in 2018.

STLP was designed to enhance middle school student interest and achievement in STEM subjects and software engineering. Teachers from Atlanta Public Schools and schools in Dekalb, Clayton, Gwinnett, Cobb, and Fulton counties have participated in the program.

“The middle school age range is such an important time to start to cultivate those young minds,” said Maurice Maxie, site leader at Honeywell Connected Enterprise Headquarters. “[This includes] sparking that curiosity, getting them to think from an innovative mindset, and really building those fundamental skills in math and science that will prepare them and help guide them to go on the correct course in high school and in college.”

The program consists of several components. First, 20 teachers are selected to participate in four weeks of intensive summer training in software engineering and computing at Georgia Tech. Teachers from schools that are pursuing STEM certification with support from principals and district level leaders are eligible for selection. Through the program, teachers make connections with mentors from Honeywell who share their real-world experiences in computer science and provide mentoring throughout the STEM Challenge. 

“Georgia Tech has this motto, ‘Creating the Next.’ They’re really experiencing ‘the next’ by being able to have access to our [Honeywell] mentors,” said Tamara Pearson, Associate Director of School and Community Engagement at CEISMC.

The Honeywell STEM Challenge is another aspect of the program. It is a software engineering competition open to students whose teachers have participated in STLP.

The challenge asks students to identify problems within their homes, schools, or communities and then design solutions using computer science principles learned as part of STLP. The projects must also drive social good.

“Social change is a hard concept to explain to middle school students … that you – you, as a twelve, thirteen, fourteen-year old – can absolutely impact your environment, and you have a unique opportunity and a unique vision to see problems and things around you,” said Jennifer Killian, a computer science teacher at Trickum Middle School who participated in STLP. “Introducing that concept … was a really meaningful experience.”

Honeywell STEM Challenge student finalists presented their projects at the STLP Symposium. The symposium is an annual event held at Georgia Tech for STLP alumni and other teacher leaders.

The first-place award went to “Blind Sight,” invented by Pettrus Konnoth and Divij Motwani. Their sponsoring teacher was Sharon McGee. “Blind Sight” was designed as a solution for blind individuals who may have difficulty navigating obstacles.

“The problem is that blind people cannot move safely with a walking stick because the walking stick cannot detect obstacles from a long distance. Plus, these sticks cost a lot,” said sixth-grade inventor Pettrus.

“[‘Blind Sight’] is made to help people who are blind move around safely using a distance sensor, an Arduino Uno Board, some wiring, and a speaker,” said his partner Divij.

On the STLP Symposium stage, the two students demonstrated how “Blind Sight” works. The device can be wrapped around one’s waist and is equipped with a distance sensor that detects approaching obstacles. The sensor is connected to a piezo buzzer that emits different frequencies for a range of distance intervals.

Divij and Pettrus explained how they constructed the components of their project and the challenges they overcame along the way. For instance, they had to learn how to make the emitted frequencies sound like recognizable beeping instead of less distinct buzzing.

The Honeywell STEM Challenge introduced many students to software engineering concepts for the first time. It also encouraged students to continue building upon their ideas with more advanced techniques even after the awards had been announced.

“I definitely learned something new: I learned how to use Arduino, and how Arduino works, and how you can use microcontrollers and computers to do a lot of stuff,” Divij said after the STLP Symposium. “I can use this learning for future projects … I can implement this to cooler, bigger stuff to impact more people and that can help solve [more problems].”

In addition to “Blind Sight,” the other STEM Challenge award winners included “Firebot” from Autrey Mill Middle School, “Care Kit” from Hollis Innovation Academy, “Seat Belt Dispenser” from Coleman Middle School, “SAM” from Coleman Middle School, and “Delta Force Jacket” from South Atlanta High School.


By Rosemary Pitrone - CEISMC Communications

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