FISHERSVILLE — Hundreds of area students showcased innovative projects Thursday afternoon such as using marbles to help brew coffee or a computer program that allows users to play piano with bananas.
Twenty-six judges took on the task of judging 209 projects by 357 students at the 5th Annual Augusta County Public Schools Science Technology Engineering Mathematics Expo at Augusta Expo.
This year’s Environmental/Agricultural Innovation category drew 17 projects by 28 students. Last year only five projects by nine students competed in the category.
“That’s the one area that has seen the most growth and I think that’s exciting,” said Angie Deitz, Augusta County Schools instructional supervisor for secondary STEM.
Deitz said she was unsure how to account for the increase other than student interest, or students entering the category hoping not many other students would also enter.
The STEM competition shows a 50/50 participation of girls and boys.
“To me, it’s equal out here,” Deitz said. “There’s not more boys than girls. And, to me, that’s phenomenal.”
Girls are interested in all categories, including robotics and Rube Goldberg, she said.
“Our numbers have gone up every year,” Deitz said of the event’s participation.
More judges also participated this year representing local business and industry.
Taylor Grimm and Olivia Keller are sixth-grade students at Beverly Manor Middle School.
“We wanted to provide the judges with something that they could take with them,” Olivia said of “Care for a Cup?”
Taylor and Olivia’s project was entered in the Rube Goldberg category, and involves a marble rolling through a series of chutes, knocking over dominoes that then hit a wooden circle that makes a toy car roll to a small stick, which initiates the pushing of a coffee pot button and brews coffee.
The students said figuring out what they could use to press the on button on the coffee machine was a challenge. The project took more than a month to plan and build, according to Olivia.
In “Magnetic Suspension,” which was entered into the Environmental/Agricultural Innovation category, Max Vess and Ryder Gold, eighth-grade students at Wilson Middle School, created an electromagnetic train.
“Recently there has been really bad pollution in most countries,” said Max of the inspiration for the project idea.
He said that he and Ryder wanted to show a way to have pollution-free transportation. They said they hope their project will raise awareness. Max said that a similar project exists in Asia.
Pollution-free transportation can be more expensive at first but save money later.
“Basically, kids with disabilities or [individuals] who have lost an arm can’t play piano,” said Devon Centeno, an eighth-grader at Wilson Middle.
Devon created his project with Dametri Hewitt, also an eighth-grade student at Wilson Middle.
The students decided to do their project, “Makey Makey,” after seeing information on the Internet.
Devon said he has friends with disabilities, and he hopes the project will raise awareness of the opportunities for individuals with disabilities.
“One friend really wanted to learn to play the piano,” he said.
So their project makes it possible with a computer program for children with disabilities to play piano and games.
Devon and Dametri used bananas, but Devon said that “anything that can conduct electricity” can be used.
“It’s just a great worthwhile event,” said Tom Truxell of Rexnord Industries, who lives in Stuarts Draft.
This year was Truxell’s first time participating as a judge.
He said it looked like the students put a lot of time into their projects.
“They put forth a great effort,” said Bob Weber of NIBCO, who lives in Staunton.
Weber was a judge last year, and he said the Rube Goldberg entries are always interesting.
However, all of the categories are “really good.”
“It’s good to see kids take this on instead of going home and sitting around playing video games,” Weber said.
Prizes were sponsored by the Community Foundation for the Central Blue Ridge, Dominion Energy, Secure Futures, Rexnord, Graphic Packaging International, Blue Ridge Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery, the Staunton Innovation Hub, Glofiber and Lantz Construction Company.
“We can’t give away prizes without our sponsors,” Deitz said.
First place was awarded a WiFi digital microscope. Second place received a TrueBalance Coordination Game. Third place received an Exit Escape Room game.