Students from Eastview Elementary in Lakeville and the School of Environmental Studies Apple Valley were recognized March 22 for their STEM skills as winners of the 2020-21 Zooms STEM Design Challenge.
The Minnesota Zoo’s award-winning program, presented by Flint Hills Resources, is a yearlong project that challenges elementary, middle and high school students from across Minnesota to develop solutions for real zoo-based scenarios. Students broaden their creativity, math, science and engineering skills throughout the program and share their ideas in a final presentation.
This year, teams from 27 schools participated in the challenge. The top projects, as selected by the zoo, advanced to the exhibition round, where student teams virtually presented their projects to a panel of judges comprised of staff from the zoo, engineers from Flint Hills Resources and other STEM professionals. The top three projects at the elementary, middle and high school levels were then awarded honors in the Zooms STEM Design Challenge Exhibitions. Additionally, student teams were awarded prizes for the conservation, innovation, teamwork and zookeeper categories. These exhibitions are typically held at the Minnesota Zoo, but this year’s program was conducted virtually to allow students from hybrid, in-person and distance learning environments to participate.
This year, students were challenged to develop solutions to provide more enrichment for Min, a 9-year-old red panda living in the Tropics Trail. Students were evaluated on their research skills used to develop ideas, the uniqueness of their ideas, plans for implementing the solution and their overall presentation.
Projects from high school teams at the School of Environmental Studies placed first, second and third for their enrichment program ideas. An elementary school team from Eastview Elementary earned the challenge’s Innovation Award for their design solutions. A School of Environmental Studies team also earned the Wolf Pack Award for teamwork.
The awards presented to the two schools are as follows:
• Flint Hills Resources Top Project, First Place Enrichment Design: School of Environmental Studies, Teeter Totter and Cooling Den
• Second Place Enrichment Design: School of Environmental Studies, Jelly Hive and Burrow Bar
• Third Place Enrichment Design: School of Environmental Studies, Frozen Grape Juice and Kiddie Pool
• Wolf Pack Award: School of Environmental Studies, Bridge and Hay Ball
• Innovation Award: Eastview Elementary, The MINesoTOY
“We are incredibly proud of the dedicated students and teachers who participated in this year’s Zooms STEM Design Challenge,” said John Frawley, director of the Minnesota Zoo and president of the Minnesota Zoo Foundation. “In a year like no other, it was important to maintain this signature program and give students an opportunity to demonstrate their creative problem-solving skills. The Minnesota Zoo will always be a place for STEM learning.”
The Zooms STEM Design Challenge is made possible by a partnership between the Minnesota Zoo and Flint Hills Resources, which dates back to 1989. The Minnesota Zoo recently received top honors from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums for the Zooms education program.
“Experiences outside of the classroom help cultivate STEM learners and there’s no better environment to pique curiosity with these concepts than the Minnesota Zoo,” said Heather Rein, director of community affairs at Flint Hills Resources Pine Bend refinery. “We are grateful for this longstanding partnership and the opportunity to inspire students to build these critical skills. We thank the students, teachers and our partners at the Minnesota Zoo for another incredible year of STEM learning.”