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How one teacher’s aquarium dream made science at this Texas school 10 times cooler.

What do you do if you’re an awesome science teacher and you want your kids to learn about water animals but don’t have water nearby?

That’s what James Jubran was up against as an aquatic science teacher at Alief Elsik High School in Houston, Texas.

“We dont have the ability to go to lakes, rivers, oceans or streams,” Jubran explains. The nearest large body of water is Trinity Bay, which is an hour away. Big field trips like that cost money, and the school doesn’t have the funding to make them feasible.

Elsik is far from being the only school with this problem. Schools nationwide are dealing with massive budget cuts to their STEM programs (science, technology, education, and mathematics). That’s a big obstacle for students looking to have careers in any of these fields.

Thankfully aquatic science enthusiasts at Elsik have Jubran grant writer extraordinaire.

Jubran with some of his students. All photos via Elsik High School, used with permission.

Jubran grew up in Florida surrounded by the ocean, and he was always fascinated by underwater ecosystems. He often went out on boats with his family, and he never missed an opportunity to go snorkeling or scuba diving.

He became a science teacher in Florida 10 years ago, but due to statewide school budget cuts, he lost his job and decided to move inland to Houston, Texas, in 2006. He’s been at Elsik for five years but has always felt somewhat limited by the lack of access to water.

So in 2016, he wrote a grant proposal for State Farm’s Neighborhood Assist Program asking for help in building a gigantic aquarium for Elsik students as well as students at other nearby schools.

State Farm accepted the first 2,000 applicants for the grant, and narrowed that number down to 200. Those proposals were then made public so that people could vote on their favorites. Elsik students made it their mission to vote as much as possible.

The top 40 proposals received $25,000. The grant Jubran wrote came in at #8.

State Farm grant dispatchers and members of the school board.

Jubran immediately began pulling resources to build his dream aquarium, and within a couple months, it was finished.

The aquarium is 12 feet long, 9 feet tall, and 3 feet wide and can hold 1,100 gallons of water.

He decided to create a tropical ecosystem in the tank, home to all kinds of tropical fish. The aquatic residents were added slowly to the tank in order to build up good bacteria, which allows the tank to better handle fish waste. The slow process also helps make sure the fish all get along.

Today, there are 14 different species of fish living in the tank. They include threadfin geophagus, known for their digging skills, Silver arowana, which can grow to two feet long, carnivorous tiger oscars, shovelnose catfish, which look like their name sounds, and Redhooks the vegetarian version of piranhas.

A few redhooks in Elsik’s new aquarium.

The tank is located in the school cafeteria so that all of the students can enjoy it and, well, because it was too big to put upstairs near Jubran’s classroom.

The aquarium’s been in place for two months now, and everyone seems to love it and all its colorful inhabitants.

Threadfin geophaguses hanging out together.

Students are often seen pressed up against the glass watching the fish swim around and interact with one another.

Jubran doesn’t love the thousands of fingerprints on the glass, but he appreciates the enthusiasm. He even has kids he’s never met before coming up to him saying things like, oh, are you the guy who built the aquarium? Its so cool.”

I don’t know about that guy in the middle. He looks pretty fishy to me. HEYO!

And Jubran’s students, especially the ones interested in aquatic science careers, can’t get enough. Even though it’s the end of the school year, he’s begun assigning special teaching projects on species in the aquarium.

“Next year, students will learn everything they need to know about the fish, then develop and present a curriculum focused on the aquarium,” Jubran says. That way, when students from other schools come by to check out the aquarium, Elsik students can actually teach them about what’s going on inside it.

And Jubran is not finished with his plans to bring water to Elsik he’s got even loftier plans up his sleeve.

Jubran teaching his students about the aquarium.

“I’m going for a $100,000 grant next year to build an even larger salt water aquarium for the other side of the school,” Jubran says.

It might be four times as much as the previous grant, but considering his success at getting that, there’s a very good chance he’ll be filling a larger aquarium with more exotic fish soon enough.

Jubran’s initiative just goes to show there’s enormous power behind one person’s desire to make a difference.

You don’t have to have a ton of money or a fancy upbringing to make huge waves in your community. All you need to have is an idea and the tenacity to see it through.

One teacher can make a school a better, cooler place to learn and grow. As long as Jubran’s at Elsik, he’ll be working on exciting ways to do just that.

If you want to find out more about Neighborhood Assist, and how it’s helping improve communities across the country, check out the program here.

Read more: http://www.upworthy.com/how-one-teachers-aquarium-dream-made-science-at-this-texas-school-10-times-cooler

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They had 15 hours to come up with an idea that’d improve lives. They did it.

They had 15 hours to come up with an idea for a revolutionary device that would make people’s lives better.

And they had to beat out hundreds of other teams that had some of the best student hackers in the world.

“Our first idea was a dancing robot that, like, danced with you if youre lonely in a dance club,” Charlene Xia said with a chuckle.

She and friends Chandani Doshi, Grace Li, Jialin Shi, Bonnie Wang, and Tania Yu were taking part in the MakeMIT hackathon MIT’s premier technology design competition. They and other students were tasked with coming up with a prototype for a new device.

Xia continued: “Then we moved to a braille watch that we saw a concept model of that somebody posted online. It got us thinking, ‘Well, wait a second, is there a thing like a text-to-braille converter? Like it translates and scans images of text on a book and converts it to braille when you move up and down?’ We kept googling and nothing came out.”

The young inventors began to lay the foundation for Tactile, the world’s first real-time text-to-braille converter.

It was a daunting challenge to say the least, but one that these young women, dubbed Team Tactile, were more than ready for.

“The good thing was that our team was very diverse,” said Shi. “We have people who studied material science, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, and computer science.”

Of course, as most projects go, hurdles inevitably popped up. From the hourlong lines at the 3D printer to their code not working properly, it was one heck of a photo finish.

“Basically, nothing came together until the last 15 minutes,” added Shi. “Thats when we were finally able to take a picture of some text and finally translate that into some motor movement, which translated into a braille character. It was stressful, but it was definitely one of the highlights of our time here at MIT that moment when something you make from scratch finally works and your concept is realized.

Team Tactile ended up winning first place in the hackathon. But their journey was just getting started.

The team received incredible support and encouragement from the mentors involved with the hackathon and one mentor, in particular, had a lasting effect.

Paul Parravano is the co-director of MIT’s Government and Community Relations office. He’s been blind since age 3. He told Team Tactile that their invention could have a huge impact on the visually impaired community, especially since they experience many pain points when it comes to access to information no more than 5% of books are accessible to them.

Ultimately, providing someone who is visually impaired with the ability to read any book out in the world was too important not to pursue.

“The impact that we could potentially have in the future is really what drove us to continue working as a team,” said Wang. “Just working it out despite our problem sets, all the exams, projects and everything, we still keep going and just try to take the prototype as far as we can.”

“An audio translator won’t be able to translate all the mathematical signs and symbols,” said Shi. “Theres also everyday life something as simple as reading packaging labels and just knowing your surroundings. Not [having to ask] for help for every little thing.”

Right now, the team is still working to refine Tactile to make sure it’s as efficient and affordable as possible. After graduation, they plan to work on it full time, and they have their sights set on getting this invention into the hands of all those who truly need it whether in the U.S. or in the developing world.

Added Wang, “Ideally … one day, every visually impaired person will have a Tactile device something that they carry around with them every day and use on a daily basis to access the information around them.”

Team Tactile’s invention is so promising that they were selected to be a part of Microsoft’s #MakeWhatsNext Patent Program.

The program focuses on two things: helping young female inventors navigate the legal hurdles that come with securing patents and empowering young women to bridge the gender gap in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics).

“They really helped us take the stress away from the patent process and allowed us to focus on the technology the part that we’re passionate about developing,” said Wang.

Tactile is a great example of the type of life-changing innovation that can come from technology, and Microsoft is committed to ensuring that everyone especially young girls has access to computer science education resources so they, too, can unlock the power to create with technology.

“Why is that the case when you think of patents, you don’t think of women inventors?” wondered Xia. “Right now, there’s a movement towards building this community of women engineers and inventors, and we’re really happy and honored to be part of this movement and contribute as much as we can to make sure this movement continues and grows.”

Read more: http://www.upworthy.com/they-had-15-hours-to-come-up-with-an-idea-thatd-improve-lives-they-did-it

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