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Poland students take on real-life challenges in STEAM classroom

Nov. 21, 2018




Three students holding up an environmentally friendly soda can holder they created


Poland Central School District sixth-graders designed soda containers in their Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Technology classroom that would reduce the need for plastic ring holders. The team of the following students won first place – from left: Maddison Haver, 11; Lily Martin, 10, and Anthony Wilson, 11.






POLAND – In order to avoid the environmentally unfriendly plastic rings that often are used to hold six-packs of soda, Poland Central School District sixth-graders recently developed alternate containers in their Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics classroom.

Poland STEAM teacher Elizabeth Lepper organized the activity, and representatives from McCraith Beverages and the F.X. Matt Brewing Co. (Saranac) visited the classroom to judge the students’ work.

The team of Maddison Haver, 11; Lily Martin, 10, and Anthony Wilson, 11, won first place in the competition with a container they dubbed “The Un-leak-able, Multi-Purpose, Pepsi Picnic Basket.”

“It was very challenging, and because it was challenging, our particular group had a lot of fun with it. All of us have one thing in common: We find challenges funny,” Anthony said. “This was probably the most fun project I’ve ever done.”

Students in the STEAM classroom first learned more about ocean pollution and that animals often are unable to survive because they have either eaten plastic or are caught in plastic – such as the plastic rings that hold soda cans.

Then students worked either as individuals or in groups on solutions using wax paper, yarn, tape, cardboard, paint stirrers and printer paper. The resulting “harmless holders” couldn’t be more than 8.5 by 11 inches by rule, Lepper said.

“The whole STEAM idea is supposed to be about problem-solving,” Lepper said. “I think it gives them more of a hands-on look at how to take on some every-day issues.”

Students were very motivated to come up with containers that would work – including one group even testing if their holder would float.

“I just gave it to them, and they ran with it,” Lepper said.

The representatives from McCraith Beverages and the F.X. Matt Brewing Co. visited with students and rated their projects. They also sent certificates, pencils and cans of Pepsi to the students.

In addition to the first-place winners, the following students received certificates:

  • Second place: Kendra Houghtaling, 11, and Mariah Francis, 11.

  • Third place: Isabele Horan, 11.

  • Fourth place: Liana Vauruk, 11; Julia Oczkowski, 11; Alyssa Militello, 11, and Rebecca Houghtaling, 11.

Having professionals from the beverage industry visit the classroom helped students further see the connection between their project and the real world, Lepper said.

“I think it gives them some validation of their hard work,” she said.

Having projects based on real concerns such as the harmful plastic rings makes the work feel more important, Lily said.

“It had a purpose,” she said.

Lily said her team wanted a container that would be sturdy, but not too bulky, so they came up with a lot of creative ideas.

The team ended up making a box-like container that would hold eight cans of soda. It had separators for each can of soda and flaps on top to ensure the soda didn’t come out of the holder if someone drove over a bump in their car, the students said.

“It’s also a fashion statement,” Anthony said.

Maddison said she wants to go into engineering involving landscaping, and she enjoyed the project.

“It’s fun,” she said.

The next challenge for the class is based on designing buildings for areas that are prone to earthquakes. The task will be to create a “three-story building” out of marshmallows, toothpicks and cardboard on top of Jell-O – to see how it stands up when the Jell-O is shaken, Lepper said.

The students said they enjoy doing projects that connect to real issues.

Isabele said she had fun creating an alternate container to replace the plastic rings. Her design was based primarily around cardboard, which is decomposable, she said.

“If it did get out into the wild or the ocean, it would be more likely to decompose and not hurt living things,” she said. “Plastic doesn’t decompose, so it’s not good for the environment.”

Taking steps to be more environmentally friendly and protect animals is important, Isabele said.

“Because some animals we need, and the whole ecosystem would fall apart without one animal,” she said.




Two students hold the handle of a container they made to hold soda cans


Poland Central School District sixth-graders designed soda containers in their Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Technology classroom that would reduce the need for plastic ring holders. The team of the following students won second place – from left: Kendra Houghtaling, 11, and Mariah Francis, 11.





Student holds her soda can container that she made in the STEAM classroom


Poland Central School District sixth-graders designed soda containers in their Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Technology classroom that would reduce the need for plastic ring holders. Student Isabele Horan, 11, won third place.





A group of four students poses in the STEAM classroom with their project


Poland Central School District sixth-graders designed soda containers in their Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Technology classroom that would reduce the need for plastic ring holders. The team of the following students won fourth place – from left: Liana Vauruk, 11; Julia Oczkowski, 11; Alyssa Militello, 11, and Rebecca Houghtaling, 11.