St. Malachy Memorial High School in Saint John, N.B., was one of four regional winners last year in the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Challenge. The students created a system of sensors to monitor air quality and provide live updates to a mapping interface. Photo courtesy of Samsung

Kitchener students build a wall to break barriers

  • May 8, 2018

The kids at St. Kateri Tekakwitha Catholic Elementary School in Kitchener, Ont., are breaking down walls with science, or more accurately, one particular wall in the middle of their school gym. 

If they’re successful they will be rewarded with $20,000 worth of new classroom technology in the Samsung 2018 Solve for Tomorrow Challenge. They may also get to run the entire length of the school gym without hitting a wall.

The 25-year-old Catholic school for about 500 students from Kindergarten to Grade 8 is one of 50 regional finalists across Canada competing for one of four Solve for Tomorrow grants.

The regional finalist status caught Grade 8 science teacher Richard Wagner by surprise. He entered the contest on a whim, thinking the students might be able to tackle one of the stickiest problems inside their own school — the movable gym wall.

It seems like every year the motorized, sliding wall breaks down and the school spends weeks waiting for repair, unable to hold assemblies or sports events using the full gym.

“I thought, you know we pay to have this repaired each year. I wonder what the overhead cost is of that compared to outright buying a new wall,” Wagner told The Catholic Register.

So he’s got his young engineers in training looking at friction, force, gravity and the weight of the wall.

“How much friction is there? Is there anything being done to reduce the friction?” Wagner has asked the kids.

The students are visiting other schools with similar moving walls to compare designs and identify mechanisms that make the wall move and problems movable wall designers have to overcome.

As finalists, the students received a 360-degree camera, a tablet and a smartphone from Samsung to help them create a two-minute virtual reality presentation which should demonstrate the problem and how they would use science to solve the problem. Wagner spent a weekend with the new equipment learning how it worked, from shooting video from every angle all at once to downloading and editing the resulting file. Then he handed it over to his 12-year-old students.

“Kids seem to pick up on it so quickly,” Wagner said. “It took me a weekend of trying to figure that all out.”

Wagner doesn’t worry about the giant Korean tech company worming its way into his classroom, marketing their products.

“No more so than Google or any other innovative company.” 

Most of his students have their own smartphones and tablets. Rather than future consumers, he sees his students as digital natives already swimming in an ocean of constantly evolving technology.

“Really, students have the answers to our future problems. This type of technology gives them the tools they need to express those answers and think of those answers,” Wagner said.

The regional winners of the competition will be announced June 4.

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