Moriah Purdy of Sunset Elementary keeps an eye on the filter her team created to separate oil from water during the inaugural STEM Challenge at the Port Alice Community Centre last Thursday

Moriah Purdy of Sunset Elementary keeps an eye on the filter her team created to separate oil from water during the inaugural STEM Challenge at the Port Alice Community Centre last Thursday

Mixing oil and water (with fun and science)

Sea View Elementary hosted the inaugural STEM Challenge at the local Community Centre last week.

PORT ALICE—Nearly 100 Grade 6 and 7 students from across the North Island took their best shot at solving the sticky issue of cleaning up a marine oil spill last week in the inaugural STEM Challenge at the local Community Centre.

The brainchild of Sea View Elementary principal D’Arcy Deacon and backed by School District 85, STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) challenges teams of students to apply rational thought, experimentation and collaboration in problem solving.

“I’m really pleased with it,” said Carol Prescott, SD85 trustee for Port Alice. “This really showcases the progressive learning that’s taking place in the District. Students are challenged to learn, think, strategize, plan and be collaborative. It also encompasses our emphasis on reaching out to the community and local business.”

The students gathered May 15 knowing the general parameters of the challenge, but without specifics. They were then briefed by school officials and engineers from Neucel Specialty Cellulose, who served as judges, on the task before them.

Each team was given an aluminum roasting pan filled with water, representing the ocean or other waterway. Using materials including cups, straws, cotton balls, plastic bags and paper towels — which they had to apportion using a budget — the students were challenged to develop a system to contain an oil spill in the water, remove the oil, and determine a use for the recovered oil.

“It’s not really a competition,” Deacon told the assembled students following judging. “It’s not for you guys to build the best project; it’s about getting you to learn and think about these issues, using environmental principles.”

Still, there were some prizes. Every participant took home a stainless-steel water bottle labeled with the first STEM challenge. The Sunset Elementary team of Moriah Purdy, Mica Donaghy, Adam Benwell, Tyanna Masterman, Dylan Pepper and Cassiel Carlson won the innovation design award for going beyond the parameters of the challenge and developing a recovery and re-use plan for the water after it was filtered from the oil.

The top overall design went to the A.J. Elliott School team of Michael Tynjala, Justin Swanson, Niall Weyer and Colesa Pakkalen of Sointula, and A.J. Elliott also took home the traveling plaque for top overall school.

“I promise this is going to get bigger and grander each time we do this,” said Deacon, who vowed it would be an annual challenge in Port Alice at least as long as he is principal.

The STEM challenge was sponsored by Neucel, with additional help from the Port Alice Lions Club.