Freedom Middle students (from left) Noah Cummins, Miles Katawala, Hannah Busler and Rhys Ammon play their parts as the school’s TECHFIT team demonstrates what it did to win a STEM-related national championship. // Photo by John McBryde
By JOHN McBRYDE
Clemson did it in college football, and now Freedom Middle School can lay claim to a national championship after 36 of its eighth graders came out on top in a STEM-based competition held at Purdue University in December.
“The kids were thrilled,” said Freedom STEM teacher Patty Littlejohn, the sponsoring teacher for the competition. “It was driven by them, they did it all.”
What they did was beat out six other teams from across the nation, including sister school Poplar Grove Middle from the Franklin Special School District, in a competition called TECHFIT (Teaching Engineering Concepts to Harness Future Innovators and Technologists). It is in its fifth year of funding through the Purdue University College of Engineering and the National Science Foundation.
The team had the opportunity Monday evening to tell about their experience and demonstrate their “exergame” during a special program just before the scheduled FSSD Board of Education meeting. It’s apparently the first national title for any FSSD school.
“It’s a fantastic program, but it’s pretty hard,” Littlejohn said. “The kids have to really focus. It’s a flowchart type programming for the computer, which is different than what the kids have ever done. A lot of businesses use this flowchart system.”
Only seven invitations were issued and, based on a video submission and an on-site judges’ review, Poplar Grove Middle and Freedom Middle were selected to move on to the national competition in West Lafayette, Indiana. Students have spent many months designing, coding and constructing the “exergame.”
Competing teams presented their TECHFIT experience and demonstrated their exergame innovation at the Purdue Recreational Sports Facility.
“After seeing all of the schools present their exergame, we knew we had a challenge,” Littlejohn said in a news release from FSSD. “We were on pins and needles! There were so many good aspects in every school’s game and presentation.”
Freedom’s students, who are taking TECHFIT as one of their related arts classes, went above and beyond what was needed to win the title.
“The students had worked so hard,” Littlejohn said. “We had taken the rubric which the students knew they were going to be judged by. As a class, we went over every item. This is what they required, so we tried to go above all the requirements so that we knew we had met everything they wanted done in the program.”
TECHFIT is funded by the National Science Foundation and seeks to spark interest in STEM, especially computational thinking, in middle school children by teaching them how these skills will help them innovate technology-based fitness exergames.