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DeKalb School District 428 fifth graders show off their engineering skills

First STEAM Expo celebrates student inventions

DeKALB – Cole Stoffa, a fifth grader at Lincoln Elementary School, wants to make DeKalb’s train crossings safer, and on Friday showed off his inventions at the first DeKalb School District 428 STEAM Expo.

About 500 fifth graders from all eight District 428 elementary schools displayed their engineering projects at the DeKalb Park District Sports and Recreation Center, 1765 S. Fourth St. Fifth grade teachers in the district organized the Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math conference to replace an annual end-of-year science fair that had been hosted by Founders Elementary School. The district hopes to make it an annual affair.

Stoffa, 10, modeled two prototypes he created for the expo.

“I really like trains, and I’ve always been passionate for helping stuff with it, and how to make things better,” Stoffa said. “So once I heard that we could do pretty much anything we want, I was pretty excited to do that.”

Stoffa’s display included a model train set and railroad crossing, featuring a mechanized, wide barrier that would stop cars from going around or through the railroad crossings that exist today.

Amy Fontana, a fifth grade teacher at Brooks Elementary School, said the students all had free rein to come up with their projects. Some worked together, and some worked in groups.

“Some had a hard time thinking of a problem to solve,” Fontana said. “But once they had their problem, they came up with really creative solutions.”

Steven Bell, instructional coach at Founders Elementary, said students had about five weeks to finish their projects.

“We used the engineering design process they would use in the real world,” Bell said. “Where they have to brainstorm, develop an idea, design it and build it.”

Five fifth graders from Brooks Elementary used their creative ideas to come up with a dog-friendly drinking machine, dubbed “Dogslobber Safety.”

“When dogs walk inside and they drink, they usually get it everywhere,” Evan Johnson, 10, said. “And sometimes people could step on it and slip and fall and break a bone. We made a design that would catch it.”

The group built a cardboard slobber-catcher to help with common spills.

Callie Dieckman, 10, and Cheyenne Frazier, 11, fifth graders from Cortland Elementary, invented something any botanist would love in a thunderstorm.

“You know how there’s a big storm and then you come outside and you see your plants fell over?” Dieckman said. “We don’t want that, so we’re trying to solve it.”

Dieckman and Frazier tested three kinds of paper rolls wrapped around the plant stems of geraniums, and discovered a wrapped up paper towel roll worked best. Dieckman said she thought of the idea because of her garden in Sycamore.

“I have a garden at home,” Dieckman said. “Geraniums are my mom’s favorite.”

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