Second White House Science Fair Features More Student Exhibits, More STEM Proposals

Filed in: STEM

Filed by Christine Cupaiuolo


Gaby Dempsey, Kate Murray and Mackenzie Grewell read in the Red Room of the White House after setting up their science fair exhibit. The three girls, part of the Flying Monkeys First Lego League Team from Ames Middle School in Ames, Iowa, took part in the second White House Science Fair. Official White House Photo by Sonya N. Hebert.

2.7.12 | Remember the pressure of science fairs? All that stress and crossed fingers, hoping the experiment would operate as planned and the poster board with the carefully laid-out explanation wouldn’t topple to the ground?

OK, so those are my fearful memories, and I only presented in the school cafeteria. The 100-plus students who attended the White House Science Fair today had bigger stakes, explaining their projects to the president and senior officials from the EPA, NASA and other government agencies. Still, they displayed top-level sophistication along with impressive skills.

“It’s not every day you have robots running all over your house,” President Obama said, welcoming the students. “I’m trying to figure out how you got through the metal detectors.”

The second White House Science Fair is truly a fair of fairs, as Andrew Revkin calls it, because it celebrates the winners and acheivements of over 40 different STEM-related competitions and programs.

Students, some in teams, exhibited projects ranging from a more efficient way to collect solar energy (courtesy of middle school student Aidan Dwywer from Northport, N.Y.) to a portable disaster relief shelter that includes its own water purification system (created by Jessica D’Esposito, Co Newton and Anna Woolery from Petersburg, Ind.). Learn more about the projects here.

A Girl Scouts team is seeking a patent on a prosthetic hand device, which would enable another girl to write:

A group of middle school-aged Girl Scouts from Ames, Iowa, including Gaby Dempsey, Mackenzie Gewell, and Kate Murray developed a patent-pending prosthetic hand device, winning them the inaugural Global Innovation Award at the FIRST LEGO League competition, beating out nearly 200 other submissions. Their invention was in response to the need of a girl in Duluth, Georgia, enabling her to write for the first time although she was born without fingers on her right hand. Their patent pending BOB-1 has earned the girls the Heartland Red Cross Young Heroes Award, scholarships at Iowa State University College of Engineering, recognition on the Floor of the Iowa and the US House of Representatives, and the title of finalists for the 2011 Pioneer Hi-Bred Iowa Women of Innovation Awards.

Tell me why again LEGO isn’t featuring these girls as part of its LEGO Friends line, designed to appeal to appeal to more female users?

Coverage of today’s event should be posted soon on and Discussions took place on Twitter with the hashtag #WHScienceFair. A bunch of photos were tweeted—Jake Tapper of ABC News posted a picture of Ma’Kese Wesley and Isis Thompson with a UV-light lunchbox they created to ensure food safety. Here’s Bill Nye with several students.

“The belief that we belong on the cutting edge of innovation, that’s an idea as old as America itself,” Obama said. “We’re a nation of thinkers, dreamers, believers in a better tomorrow.”

Indeed. Watch below as Obama pumps up a student-designed air cannon that shoots marshmallows, and inspects other projects:

Obama previously set a goal of preparing 100,000 teachers with math and science skills over the next decade. He announced several proposals today designed to help meet that mark. From the White House statement:

• A new $80 million investment to help prepare effective STEM teachers: The President’ upcoming budget will request $80 million for a new competition by the Department of Education to support effective STEM teacher preparation programs, such as those that allow students to simultaneously earn both a STEM degree and a teaching certificate, and provide undergraduates with early and intensive experiences in the classroom honing their skills.

• A new $22 million investment from the philanthropic and private sector to complement the Administration’s efforts: After the President issued his call to action to recruit and prepare 100,000 effective STEM teachers, over 115 organizations, led by Carnegie Corporation of New York and Opportunity Equation, came together to form a coalition called “100Kin10” to help reach the President’s goal. Today, 14 of those organizations – including Carnegie, Google, the S.D. Bechtel, Jr., Bill & Melinda Gates, Freeport McMoran, and Michael and Susan Dell Foundations – are announcing a $22 million fund to invest in STEM teacher preparation and support. In addition, other 100Kin10 partners are making over 100 individual commitments, such as:

o National Math and Science Initiative will prepare 4,000 new STEM teachers from 31 UTeach sites by 2015;

o Teach for America will recruit 11,000 STEM Corps members by 2015 and connect other qualified applicants to additional STEM teaching opportunities;

o Donors Choose will inspire 50,000 citizens to sponsor projects in math and science classrooms over the next two years, delivering $15M in critical classroom resources and helping 600,000 students nationwide;

o Google will share its talent management practices to help find, grow, and retain outstanding STEM teachers by partnering with districts and organizations for comprehensive reform and hosting talent academies with administrators and decision-makers;

o California State University will prepare 1,500 new math and science teachers annually through 2015, half of whom will teach in high-need schools for at least three years and 10% of whom will earn dual certification, addressing the needs of hard-to-staff schools, and

o University of Chicago will create a framework for organizing the learning that results from “100Kin10” investments and coordinate research among the partners.

• A STEM focus in upcoming Race to the Top competition: The President strongly believes that systemic reform at the state and district level will be critical to our success in improving STEM education and providing for excellent STEM teaching, such as creating alternative pathways for STEM professionals to enter the classroom and expanding opportunities for “hands-on” STEM learning for children, especially those from underrepresented groups.  To ensure that STEM remains a component of systemic education reform, the Department of Education will again include a focus on STEM criteria in the upcoming Race to the Top competition.

• New policies and investments to recruit, support, retain and reward excellent STEM teachers:  To improve the teaching and learning of STEM and encourage our best STEM teachers to stay in the profession, we must implement a system that recognizes and rewards teacher excellence. That’s why, this year, the Department of Education will devote a portion of its upcoming $300 million Teacher Incentive Fund competition to support state and local efforts to improve compensation, evaluation, and professional development systems for STEM educators. In addition, the Department of Education will provide new incentives to improve the quality of teacher preparation programs by targeting TEACH Grants to students attending top-tier schools, and focusing on a smaller number of more meaningful outcome indicators about their quality and impact on teacher performance.  Concurrently, the National Science Foundation will continue to emphasize the quality of teacher preparation programs and plans for innovation in its Noyce Fellowships program.

Continue reading here. As the AP notes, Obama made a similar $80 million request to Congress last year but it did not get approval.

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