Tribal School Wins MIT Grant
Lower Brule High School, Lower Brule, SD, received a $10,000 InvenTeam grant from Massachusetts Institute of Technology [MIT]—not only are they the first South Dakota recipient of the award but also the first Tribal school to win this grant.
For the past 16 years, MIT has sponsored the Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam Grant for high school students. Students apply for the grant by submitting their plan for building a technological invention that will solve a problem in their own community or for the world at large. Once awarded a grant, young inventors and their mentors must fully engage in the year-long process to create their project from the ground up!
The selection process
Devon Riter has been teaching science in Lower Brule for five years; he also runs a non-profit: Lower Brule Research that provides students with year-round, science-based opportunities like food sustainability. Last summer, students began brainstorming ideas for their grant.
“We talked about lots of different potential problems we could try to address. One of the ideas that got pretty far developed was a remote sensor that would let you know when your propane tank was getting low,” explains Riter. In order to formulate a project about which the team of students could be truly excited, they decided to approach the question differently. “Instead of asking what are some of the problems you (students) or someone you know might be experiencing, we started to talk about what are the best things about Lower Brule and how could we make those things better.”
Eventually, the kids settled on the fact that basketball is an important part of their community, and “the slab” (outdoor basketball courts) is the major gathering spot for many community members. The students decided that having a Bluetooth speaker for anyone to use while shooting hoops would be ideal. The team’s excitement about the public, permanent Bluetooth speaker grew and the project was born.
“We visited the slab, drew out some sketches and built some mockups of how it (the speaker) could work. After we started seeing how it could function, we started writing it up for the Lemelson-MIT grant,” Riter shares.
The project unpacked
“It is a solar-powered Bluetooth for ‘The Slab,’ our outdoor basketball court,” Alyssa Box, Lower Brule senior and InvenTeam design lead, describes.
“We are building a new prototype and weather-proofing the speaker—the speaker will be connected to the solar panel which will be mounted to the chain link fence.
There will charging ports for people to safely store and charge phones while playing ball. The goal is to make the whole system theft proof. There will be a finger print scanner to lock and unlock boxes.
There is also a discussion about adding a timing element to only allow music from one device to play for a certain amount of time.” It seems they have thought of everything!
Perhaps the most important aspect of their community invention is that the group of students views the speaker as a way to bring people together and encourage them to be active. It is one way they can assist in the fight against diabetes and obesity in their community.
The challenges and preparations
After being selected as one of the fourteen high schools to become an InvenTeam, the students went straight to work. They took on various roles for the project and were learning as they developed their first prototype. Alyssa relays, “The challenge has been designing the most efficient prototype that is solely solar-based.”
“From a technical standpoint, the biggest challenge so far has been on the software side,” shares Riter. “I and none of our students have any coding experience, so it really required learning that skill from scratch. We are definitely making progress, but also have a lot more work to do.” The group is working hard to produce the best prototype to present at the EurekaFest in Washington, D.C. in June (Unfortunately, the EurekaFest may not happen this summer due to the COVID19). This is where all of the InvenTeams will showcase their inventions.
The EurekaFest is an exhibition organized by Lemelson-MIT to show off the invention capabilities of the high school inventors. Also, it provides a chance for the teams to receive feedback on their invention and invention process from a wide variety of people— technical experts, other student inventors, and the general public.
There are awards presented at the end of the festivities, but these are not the major point of EurekaFest. The awards provide recognition to students who have gone above and beyond for their invention.
For their instructor, the best reward of this InvenTeam journey has been connecting with these kids on a project that's bigger than the classroom and Lower Brule High School. Riter says, “Having the opportunity to share their talents on a national stage, creates a different atmosphere in our classroom. Being able to be part of that atmosphere is really fun for me.”
Support Native youth inventors
In the event MIT holds the EurekaFest this summer, Native Hope would like to match the first $1,000 raised by the team on their Facebook and plans to share their efforts with our supporters. The funds raised will assist with travel for their whole team of 18 students and two adults ($15,000). For now these efforts are on hold, but we will keep you informed as the story unfolds.
Congratulations to these phenomenal youth and their instructor!
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