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Budding engineers in Flossmoor School District 161 will put their ideas and skills on display in the first-ever STEM Fest.

About 20 students from across the district are taking part in the event, scheduled from 9 a.m. to noon April 30 at Parker Junior High School in Flossmoor.

STEM Fest organizers say the event is more than a traditional science fair. Instead of the scientific method, which focuses on making observations and doing experiments, Stem Fest asks students to follow an engineering design process based on designing, building and testing.

The event takes its name from STEM areas – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math – and is also based on Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) that have been adopted in District 161 and other Illinois schools.

Elizabeth Klein, one of three STEM Fest directors, said it’s critical for students to solve problems in the real world using the engineering design process. Her co-directors are Joseph Cristofanelli and Michelle Boyce. All three are teachers at Western Avenue School.

“With NGSS becoming prevalent, inquiry based learning is important and we wanted to give students in District 161 a chance to show off their invention skills,” Klein said. “This is why we chose to go STEM instead of science this year.”

Klein said she’s pleased that about 20 students are registered for the first STEM Fest. Students from all five District 161 schools were asked to participate in the event.

“This doesn’t seem like a lot, but we are proud that we have this many young inventors,” she said. “We hope to see growth next year.”

Amy Warke, District 161’s assistant superintendent of learning and instruction, said teachers and administrators wanted to make the transition from a traditional science fair to a STEM-oriented event.

“Last year at the Science Fest, we began with incorporating some STEM activities for the participants, but this year, with the new coordinators, we have had a full transition,” Warke said. “Our new team has done an amazing job with the transition. They have really thought outside the box.”

Some of the inventions include a television remote locator, an underwater robot used for taking photos, a cleaning robot and a tool to help people with disabilities move objects.

All the STEM Fest entries follow steps outlined in the engineering design process – to define the problem, do background research, specify requirements, brainstorm solutions, choose the best solution, do the development work, build a prototype, and test and redesign.

Students can participate in a number of Northern Illinois University STEM Lab demonstrations, Christofanelli said. Local STEM groups like the Homewood Science Center and the HF Robotics League will be taking part in the event. It’s a Service Thing, a local organization dedicated to community outreach, is also donating its time to volunteer at STEM Fest.

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