STEM competition

Kodiak Middle School students swept a state STEM competition. The participants, from left, are Hunter Simeonoff, Joseph Opheim, Gavin Denning, River Limchantha, Logan Izzo, Madison Stauffer, Krista Simpler, Tyreke Navarro and Emily Lorring.

Kodiak Middle School students swept the state level of a national science, technology, engineering and math competition.

KMS had three teams enter the eCYBERMISSION competition, with one team taking first place in the state at the sixth grade level and two teams taking first and second place in the state at the eighth grade level. 

Three students composed each team. At the eighth-grade level, Madison Staufer, River Limchantha and Logan Izzo were on the first-place team, and Krista Simpler, Tyreke Navarro and Emily Lorring took second. 

eCYBERMISSION is a national competition sponsored by the U.S. Army Educational Outreach Program and administered by the National Science Teachers Association that encourages sixth through ninth graders to apply science, technology, engineering and math –commonly referred to as STEM –to solve community problems. 

Students choose and research a challenge, write a hypothesis and then conduct experiments. Judging is based on scientific inquiry using scientific practices or engineering design processes, the potential benefit to the community and team collaboration. The students chose to participate as part of an elective tutorial.

“Working with these groups was really enjoyable,” KMS teacher and team advisor Kathryn Symms wrote in an email. “Each group picked a project they were interested in, so they were very motivated to complete their projects.”

According to Gavin Denning, a student, the sixth-grade team chose to research how oil-eating microbes could be used to clean up an oil spill. 

The team “wanted to do something that could help clean up just small amounts of oil,” he said. 

The team grew Alcanivorax borkumensis in tap water, seawater, motor oil and canola oil in varying temperatures. 

They found the microbes did best in warmer temperatures and worst in cold water, which matched the team’s hypothesis, he said. 

According to Madison, the first eighth-grade team decided to focus on another kind of pollution. 

“We decided the best choice for us, that we could test in a scientific experiment, would be marine debris,” Madison said. 

The team collected the debris from Kodiak beaches and tested how size and material affect the object’s buoyancy. 

The team found that materials with more mass, including ceramics and metals, sink. Plastics were more variable, with some floating and some sinking depending on conditions and the weight.

“That’s really important because it affects the type of marine life that will eat it or the environment that it’s in,” Madison said. 

The final team tested the impact of mycorrhiza, a fungus, on plant growth. The team grew four spinach plants – two with mycorrhiza and two without. 

“The only thing different between the two plants was the mycorrhiza,” Krista said. 

Those planted with the fungus grew better, they found. 

“It helps benefit the plants and you have to mix it into the soil,” Krista said. 

The findings matched the team’s hypothesis. 

Krista said she hopes to reach out to Kodiak Daily Mirror garden columnist Marion Owen to let her know about their findings. 

“It can help your plants grow in the wintertime,” she said. “It even helps the absorption of water and increases their mineral and nutrient intake.”

Switgard Duesterloh allowed the teams to conduct their experiments in a lab at the Kodiak Seafood and Marine Science Center. 

“These students could have chosen to be in an easy/fun elective, but instead rose to the challenge of addressing a problem in the community and using science to find a solution,” Symms wrote. “They put a lot of work into research, experimenting, and writing up their results. Completing a relevant project like this is a great accomplishment for a middle school student.”

The students said it was fun to complete the challenge.

“Towards the end it was stressful, but we really did enjoy it,” Madison said.

The 20 national finalists, who will move on to the National Judging and Educational Event held in Washington D.C. in June, will be announced Monday. 

Snoderly can be reached at (907) 512-2624. Follow her on Twitter, @KDMjoann

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