Another year, yet another record broken. The STEAM Tank Challenge — a phenomenally successful partnership between the New Jersey School Boards Association and the U.S. Army – has received 657 team applications from schools across New Jersey this year.

That’s an increase of 17.3% over last year’s total. More than 2,500 students will participate in team projects which provide students with a platform to experience real-world problem solving. It allows them to think like entrepreneurs and design and create whatever they can dream of, using the fields of STEAM – science, technology, engineering, the arts and math.

“The record number of applications shows how this creative and innovative concept continues to take off. The sky is the limit! Congratulations to all involved,” said Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod, executive director of the NJSBA. “Students of all ages are being given an extraordinary experience to invent and build a marketable product that can change the world.”

In the STEAM Tank Challenge, students create products and solutions to problems, which they enter into a competition. Winners at the regional level compete in the finals at NJSBA’s annual Workshop conference in Atlantic City, where they explain and demonstrate their products in front of a panel of judges comprised of educators, entrepreneurs and business leaders.

In this year’s competition, there will be 333 elementary school teams, 196 middle school teams and 128 high school teams.

Teams presenting must consist of at least two, but no more than five, students and at least one educator. Each team is allowed to present only one idea. Once a team has its idea registered and it is accepted into the STEAM Tank regional competition, the team educator can request access to the STEAM Tank playbook that includes pedagogical recommendations, an FAQ sheet and rubric.

The growth and popularity of the program has exceeded all expectations.

In 2015, John Henry, an NJSBA STEAM and sustainable schools specialist, and the U.S. Army’s George Johnson joined forces to develop the STEAM Tank Challenge. The first year, there were 32 submissions with 17 teams selected to present their ideas and inventions at NJSBA’s annual Workshop in Atlantic City. The second year saw 193 submissions, with 90 teams selected to advance to the regionals, and 37 teams making it to the finals.

The scope of the program can be seen in the number of school districts competing in the program for the first time this year. The list includes Newark; Monmouth County Vocational School District’s Biotechnology High School; Shore Regional; Lopatcong; Belleville; Woodbridge; Marlboro; Tuckerton; Brooklawn; Somerset Hills; Mount Olive; Middlesex; Spring Lake Heights; Roselle Park; Barnegat; Union City; West Essex, Westwood Regional, and Boonton.

Although STEAM Tank is an entrepreneurial design competition for students, it is beyond a competition. It is a student-centered, teacher-facilitated best practice that can be the driving force for student achievement.

It can also be a model to follow when considering implementing a comprehensive Integrative STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts and math) program in a school district. The program includes problem and project-based learning and design thinking strategies.

STEAM Tank focuses on human-centered solutions, which inspires empathy in our students as well. It incorporates sustainability and provides a platform for students to learn how to design solutions so humans and nature can exist in harmony. Students who participate in STEAM Tank learn that it is not good enough or even acceptable to just design and engineer something without considering the environmental impacts and the direct impact on climate change.

Students learn career-ready practices, which can serve them wherever they may go in their future. In essence, through STEAM Tank, NJSBA and the U.S Army have created a STEAM Tank community that supports schools with leadership and team building training for students, teachers and board members.

To learn more about how to join our STEAM Tank Community and to find out about additional resources, such as STEAM policies, board goals and strategic plans that support STEAM becoming an integral part of the culture of your school, please email Jennifer Siehl at jsiehl@njsba.org or John Henry at jhenry@njsba.org.

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