This fall, 130 teams of New Jersey students of all ages will present their ideas and inventions in NJSBA’s sixth annual STEAM Tank finals.

The STEAM Tank Challenge is open-ended and designed to encourage students to think like inventors and entrepreneurs. Students apply as teams and are invited to dream up something new, alter an existing product to make it more effective, or to solve an everyday problem.

Co-sponsored by the U.S. Army, this year’s virtual competition is devised to inspire the state’s K-12 competitors to develop solutions that connect science, technology, engineering, arts, and math principles and methods to their innovative inventions. The date and details for the finals will be released soon.

This year, 355 applications were received and 240 teams, with more than 1,000 student competitors, qualified for the virtual STEAM Tank regional competitions. NJSBA was gratified to see such a high level of student participation in the midst of a pandemic. Winners at the regional level compete in the finals in the fall.

As in years past, student teams showed their innovation, creativity and ability to find solutions. For example, a student team from the Gloucester Institute of Technology presented a three-position water-conserving faucet. The team built a full-scale working prototype for the judges. The innovation to an existing bathroom or kitchen sink would reduce water consumption.

“The students are so courageous. Because of STEAM Tank they have a platform, where they can be creative with their ideas and express their emotions and their thoughts and try to solve real-world problems. They just step up,” said NJSBA STEAM & Sustainable Schools Specialist John Henry.

“When the adults of the school, the staff, the administrators and the board members see what the students can do, they are so proud.”

“We’ve had stories about kids who usually don’t participate at all and then when they were given this platform, now they’re on this stage presenting and the adults are like, ‘Whoa!’”

NJSBA and its numerous community partners serve as mentors to students and teachers. The Association offers consultations and weekly calls. It also delivers professional development sessions and curriculum support to school officials and educators relating to this interdisciplinary approach.

Henry, a former educator, who completed NASA’s Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship Program, and U.S. Army STEAM Fellow 1st Lt. Andrew Becker, who has a background in aeronautical engineering, provided much of the mentoring support to the teams with engineering-related projects.

Since April, the 240 STEAM Tank regional competition participants presented live demonstrations to the NJSBA via a variety of online platforms. The teams explained and demonstrated their products in front of a panel of judges.

Judges for the finals will include teachers, business and industry leaders and entrepreneurs, U.S. Army engineers, university staff and leaders, and staff from education-focused non-profit groups. The PSEG Foundation again will be offering $15,000 in prizes to the top teams in first, second and third places in three student groups for elementary, middle school and high school.

“STEAM Tank lends a voice to kids who didn’t have a voice, or found their voice,” said Jennifer Siehl, NJSBA business development and STEAM Tank coordinator. “It’s not just the gifted and talented program. It’s an inclusive community for learners. It’s for everyone — in a safe space where the sky’s the limit.”

To join NJSBA’s growing STEAM Tank community, please email us or visit its Facebook page for more information.

Rosa Cirianni is a School Leader contributing editor.