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Teacher Spotlight: Students engaged with science through Shark Tank challenge

Shark Tank inspired science project engages students with an innovative challenge.

File:Lightning over Oradea Romania zoom.jpg
How can energy produced by lightening be captured and used?

In October, “Sharks” attacked an 8th grade science class at Meadowdale Middle for the 2nd Annual Shark Tank Challenge.  Parents, school staff, and administrators took on the role of “shark” investors as students presented their ideas to the panel. As one student stated, “we have done research projects before, but never anything where we had to come up with the idea and other people grill you with questions..., especially adults.” The students in Stephen Howard's 8th grade science class learned more than simply how energy works and impacts the world. They embarked on a journey to apply their knowledge in a useful way.
Howard’s Shark Tank project embodies the important 21st Century Learning skills of collaboration, communication, creativity, imagination, critical thinking, and problem solving as it relates to the science curriculum.  According to Howard, “the goal of this project is for kids to think creatively about energy all around them and develop an innovative way to harness some of this ‘wasted’ energy in a useful way.”   The students must be able to explain the math and science behind their invention which is even more challenging when presenting the information to an audience ready to ask challenging questions.
The majority of work for this 2 week project rests in the hands of the students.  Students viewed an example, watched some Shark Tank episodes, read through a rubric, worked through a mini lesson on 3D modeling, and then were released to develop their ideas.  Howard’s role as the teacher throughout the course of the project shifted to that of a consultant and facilitator.   Students could ask him for assistance if they needed help clarifying some of the science behind their concept.  The students engaged in the learning with the understanding that they needed to be innovative, yet scientifically accurate.  After presenting their ideas in 5 small groups, one team from each group was selected by their peers to move forward into the Shark Tank.
On the big day, students approached the panel of “sharks” to present their product, communicate the science and reasoning for their invention, ask for funding, and answer some pretty tough questions about their idea.  An audience of adult volunteers provides students with an opportunity to share their learning beyond the classroom walls extending the relevance of the task.  Following the 10 minute presentation, the “sharks” provide feedback to the groups regarding their invention and presentation.  The learning that takes place reaches beyond a textbook knowledge of energy and the teacher assessing that learning.   
Teaching in a 1:1 classroom makes assignments like these possible by allowing students to take ownership of their learning.  The devices provide them with a tool to access the latest information and to build a prototype of their invention through 3D imaging.  Students thought of ways to capture wasted energy to recharge a phone, power lights, and fuel vehicles.  The learning that takes place when students are challenged to tap into those critical 21st Century skills reaches well beyond the subject curriculum.   Who knows?  One of these students may be inspired to further their ideas into reality in the future.   

I challenge you to find ways to empower students to collaborate, innovate, problem solve, and think critically as they extend their learning beyond the classroom walls.


  1. I read an expression the other day - "Life-wide and Life Long learning. This fits that idea. Students' lives are so much wider than the box of the classroom. When we empower them, they build both skills.


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