Middle Schoolers Using Science to Save the World

The above video of then 8th grader Michael Koehler from Pennsylvania explaining Bernoulli’s Principle was my first introduction to the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge, the nation’s premier science competition for middle school students. At that time, in 2008, the students were asked to explain scientific principles and Michael was a finalist for his submission, moving on to the in person competition. I was charmed by his presentation and shared it originally on my first incarnation of Joanne Loves Science.

A lot has changed since 2008. Back then, my four kids were all seven years younger than they are now, Andy was 16 and in high school and thinking he might become a geographer. Amanda was 13, probably about the same age as Michael in this video. I felt certain she would become a teacher! Abby was 11, and as unique back then as she is now, in all the good ways! Adam was 8, playing baseball and enjoying his friends and siblings.

Manaster kids sit on large couch
Now: Andy, 23; Amanda, 20; Abby, 18; and Adam 15

Of course, kids grow fast in seven years and many things change. Andy is now in graduate school at

Amanda doing field work with the USGS in Illinois
Amanda doing field work with the USGS in Illinois

Colorado State University studying Atmospheric Sciences. Amanda is a junior in Engineering Physics at UIUC and an intern at the USGS Water Survey in Illinois. Abby is a freshman at Parkland College/UIUC and undecided on her major but has strong interest in global issues, education and Spanish. I anticipate she will be studying abroad at some point. She doesn’t have a strong pull toward science, but is an excellent student of the sciences. Adam, a sophomore in high school has expressed interest in becoming an ecologist (or maybe a professional trombonist) This, of course, can change!

Speaking of change, the Discovery 3M Young Scientist Challenge has changed over the years, too. It is still a competition for middle schoolers, they still create videos to enter, and the finalists still show up in person for in-person challenges. These days, contestants are asked to use scientific and engineering concepts to come up with ways to solve problems one might encounter in everyday life. How can science and engineering improve the world? This is a great question for middle schoolers to ask themselves, and a fantastic lens through which to see the world. Scientists and engineers make a difference.  Unique to this contest is that the finalists in the competition are paired up with a mentor from 3M. This is an incredible opportunity, and and excellent way to encourage further steps into the world of science and a fuller understanding of how scientists think and science is done.

2014 Discovery 3M Young Scientist Challenge Finalists
2014 Discovery 3M Young Scientist Challenge Finalists

If you have a science-minded middle schooler (or are one, or are a middle school science teacher), you may be wondering about some specifics for this contest by now. It’s open to students in grades 5-8, one of whom will be awarded the title of “America’s Top Young Scientist” along with a $25,000 prize. Middle schoolers simply need to think about a problem in their everyday lives and a science-based solution to that problem. Then they summarize it in a 1-2 minute video and submit to www.YoungScientistChallenge.com by April 21, 2015.  In June or July, state merit winners will be named and 10 finalists will be selected to be paired with 3M scientist mentors over the summer. The mentors then help the students to refine or re-imagine their projects. In October, the students will present their final projects to a panel of judges at the 3M Center in St. Paul, Minnesota. This inspirational event is typically streamed so you can catch it online. If you want to keep up with the contest or want more information, please Like them on Facebook or follow them on twitter (@DE3MYSC)!

To help kick off the search for contestants, I’m participating in a #STEMchat on Thursday, March 5, 2015 at 9pm EST. We will be talking about applying science to our everyday lives and how to foster curiosity and scientific thinking in the young ones around us. When it comes to questions about what kind of things we do with our own kids to encourage scientific thinking, I’ll be looking to my past, thinking about what things may have encouraged my kids to consider science as their careers.

In addition to myself,  other #STEMchat participants include a great group of twitter users who love science, too!

And, of course, YOU!!! Please make plans to join in with us using the hashtag, #STEMchat.