Uni High student selected as finalist for 2015 Intel STS competition

University High School senior, Yelena Mandelshtam, was one of forty students selected as a finalist in the 2015 Intel Science Talent Search (Intel STS) competition on January 21st.

This program recognizes the top high school science minds in the nation and is regarded my many as one of the most coveted and prestigious science awards a high school student can earn.

Finalists will receive an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C. from March 5-11, where they will undergo final judging, display their work to the public, meet with notable scientists, and compete for $1,012,500 in awards, including the three top awards of $150,000 each.

For more information about the Intel STS, please visit their website at www.societyforscience.org.

Student inventors will showcase their ‘Astounding Inventions’ on Jan. 24

Some innovative student inventions will be featured later this month at the 28th annual Astounding Inventions contest.


Presented by Greenberg Traurig LLP and the Irvine Valley College Foundation, the event will take place from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 24, in Irvine Valley College’s Hart Gymnasium. (Click to enlarge the flier to the right.)

Astounding Inventions is a unique fair established to promote student interest in math and science. Each year, Irvine and Tustin students in kindergarten through the eighth grade submit their own original inventions, which are judged and displayed. Last year’s award-winning entries included the “Baby Camera Flash” and the “Dolphin Wind Dynamics.”

The public will be able to check out this year’s submissions for free on the day of the event, and we encourage you to come take a look. There will also be stage shows and some interesting science displays, including robots, a “Make Your Own Slime” station, water rockets and a sea-life petting pool from the Aquarium of the Pacific.

For more information, click here.

Uni High team earns grant funding to invent aerial search-and-rescue system


A team of University High students has been awarded $9,680 in grant funding to develop an aerial search-and-rescue prototype capable of locating lost hikers. Seriously. It’s all part of a unique program that encourages high schoolers to solve real-world problems with technological solutions. 

Uni is one of just 15 high schools nationwide to secure funding for its Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam this year. Founded at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1994, the Lemelson-MIT program aims to inspire the next generation of inventors and promote economic growth.

Uni High science teacher and STEM coach Tinh Tran describes the program as “the ultimate in STEM project-based learning instruction.”

“There are no predetermined answers,” Tran said. “Where the project goes depends on hard work, skill, smarts and a bit of luck.”

“The team will likely experience many failures along the way and students will learn that it’s okay to fail – failure is an integral part of innovation,” he said. “By working in this type of learning environment, the students develop and practice 21st Century skills needed in a world that values collaboration, initiative, perseverance, flexibility, empathy, curiosity and creativity.

Tran began the InvenTeam application process last spring and even attended a training at MIT in June to refine his school’s entry. Months later, a panel that included educators, researchers, MIT alumni and former Lemelson-MIT award winners judged the proposals and named Uni among this year’s grantees. 

With almost $10,000 in funding, Tran will lead of group of 15 students in developing a high-tech system for locating lost hikers and others who go missing in wilderness areas. According to the proposal, the Uni invention will create an autonomous fixed-wing aircraft, a mobile data-receiving base station and a distress-signal-emitting radio wristband, and all of those components will be able to talk to one another.

“The InvenTeams program represents the future,” said Leigh Estabrooks, Lemelson-MIT’s invention education officer.  “We place an emphasis on STEM-focused projects to develop interest in these fields among youth. With InvenTeams, our primary goal is to foster high school students’ passion for invention, in turn inspiring them to consider careers in science, technology, engineering or math.”

Along with other local companies and organizations, Uni’s InvenTeam — or UNInvenTeam, as they’re calling themselves — is partnering with OC Makerspace, a company that offers community members a creative space to work on projects and connect with professionals.

The Uni students will develop their Aerial Wilderness Distress Monitor and Search System over the next nine months, and in June they plan to showcase a prototype of their invention at EurekaFest, a multi-day event held at MIT with activities designed to inspire youth and encourage creativity and problem-solving.

“The student inventors and I are absolutely thrilled and feel incredibly honored to have received an InvenTeam grant,” Tran told the NewsFlash. “The work we put in over the summer to research, brainstorm ideas, gather feedback from intended beneficiaries and prepare the final application really paid off. Now we get to have fun, because inventing is just plain fun.”

Stumped on your science project? Come to IUSD’s Ask-A-Scientist/Engineer Night

Need help with that upcoming science project? Why not consult an expert?

Ask-A-Scientist 093014IUSD will once again host its Ask-A-Scientist/Engineer Night from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 15 at Rancho San Joaquin Middle School. The annual event will assist students in grades six through 12 who are working on this year’s science projects, as well as sixth-graders who have been tasked with making Rube Goldberg machines – like the ones in the Mouse Trap board game or the breakfast scene from “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure.”

As in previous years, Ask-A-Scientist/Engineer Night attendees will have an opportunity to chat with real scientists and engineers from places like Beckman, Allergan, Rockwell, the Irvine Ranch Water District, UC Irvine, USC, Irvine Valley College and Chapman University. In addition, IUSD science teachers will be on hand to help answer questions.

Attendance is free, but each child must be supervised by an adult for the entire evening.

Rancho San Joaquin Middle School is located at 4861 Michelson Road. Visitors may park on Michelson and Yale without being ticketed, even though it says “No parking.” (Note that this special privilege applies only to Ask-A-Scientist/Engineer Night.)

For more information, check out the flier, email jocelynjazwiec@iusd.org or call (949) 936-5057.

Uni teacher takes STEM to new heights with ambitious satellite experiments

Tinh Tran was looking to integrate more hands-on science, math and technology activities into his classroom lessons, with the ultimate goal of sparking an interest in STEM career paths.

ArdusatSo when the University High science teacher heard about an ambitious program that would enable high schoolers to conduct space experiments, using data from real satellites, he was interested to say the least.

“Mind-blowing” is how Tran describes the technology offered by an education company called Ardusat, which has launched softball-sized satellites called CubeSats into low orbit. (One is pictured to the right.) Each is equipped with sensors that will allow Earthbound students to track temperatures, magnetic fields, UV levels and luminosity using classroom kits with microcontrollers.

Thanks to grant funding secured through the Irvine Public Schools Foundation’s Innovative Teaching Awards Program, the ninth-graders enrolled in Tran’s Earth science systems course will be among the first to pilot the new Ardusat system. And that’s drawn interest from the U.S. News & World Report, which recently interviewed the Uni educator for this story about CubeSats and the future of STEM instruction.

It’s an interesting read even without the IUSD connection. Meanwhile, Tran told us that the mini-satellites will have broad applications at Uni, allowing his students to analyze weather patterns, measure solar flares, monitor the greenhouse effect and much, much more.

“There’s a really steep learning curve for anyone jumping into this,” he said. “One of my goals this year is to integrate STEM (project-based learning) activities into my classroom to encourage more kids to think about STEM fields as a career path. This fits the bill nicely.”

As for his inclusion in the U.S. News article, he said he was happy to weigh in on a subject that’s becoming more critical by the day.

“Whenever there is a chance to promote STEM awareness, I’m in.”

Alderwood teacher relies on a longtime friend and a little ingenuity for ice bucket challenge

Over the summer, we saw a number of ALS ice bucket challenges featuring celebrities, politicians and regular folks. But we hadn’t seen one quite like this.

Dan Grubb, a sixth-grade teacher at IUSD’s Alderwood Elementary School, recently took part in the viral fundraiser, employing the help of longtime friend Edward J. McNeill, as well as a little ingenuity.

McNeill is a 35-year survivor of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, more commonly known as ALS. He’s also the author of several novels.

“Edward is so inspiring,” says Grubb. “When I think things in my life are tough, it helps to change my perspective to all that Edward has overcome. This man has written three novels using one finger on a keyboard. Edward feels that it is his drive to write that keeps him going year after year.”

Even though McNeill’s physical limitations prevent him from hoisting a bucket of ice water, Grubb wanted him to do the honors. So the Alderwood teacher constructed a classic Rube Goldberg machine using household items, including parts from his garage door opener.

In the video, Grubb takes a seat under a bucket. Nearby, McNeill nudges a tennis ball down a slope and into a roll of duct tape, which taps a row of dominoes, which sets off a rat trap, which … well, you should see it for yourself.

The ALS ice bucket challenge has been a fundraising juggernaut this summer due in large part to its viral nature. Specifically, each participant calls on friends and colleagues to donate or perform the stunt — and most do both.

Before being doused, Grubb challenged Alderwood Principal Kara Rydman, IUSD Superintendent Terry Walker and Mark Sontag, IUSD’s director of math, science and career technical education. He also issued a parting challenge to his students — past, present and future.

“More research is needed to end ALS,” he said. “What difference can you make? Be a difference-maker.”

Three IUSD students named semifinalists in fourth annual Broadcom competition

A trio of IUSD students has been selected to advance to the next round in a science, technology and math competition sponsored by the Broadcom Foundation.

Jeffrey Wang Xing, an eighth-grader at Jeffrey Trail Middle School; Anita Garg, an eighth-grader at Rancho San Joaquin Middle School; and Alderwood School sixth-grader Michael Wayne Schoenberger are among 300 middle schoolers from across the country to be named semifinalists in the fourth annual Broadcom MASTERS competition.

MASTERS_logoIn less than a week, that group will be narrowed to 30 finalists, who will earn a trip to Washington, D.C. in October to showcase their science fair projects in a four-day STEM competition. The first-place winner gets the top prize of $25,000, presented by the Samueli Foundation.

The Broadcom MASTERS — Math, Applied Science, Technology and Engineering for Rising Stars — was established in 2011 to spark interest in science and engineering at the middle school level, thereby encouraging students to pursue higher levels of math and science in high school.

We’re told more than 2,054 applied to enter this year’s contest, each having met the prerequisite of placing in the top 10 percent of science fairs affiliated with the Society for Science & the Public. Semifinalists were then selected by actual scientists, engineers and educators.

Jeffrey of Jeffey Trail submitted a project that documented “The Study of Levitation Distance and Stability Range in Diamagnetic Levitation,” while Rancho’s Anita entered “The Effect of Competition on a Problematic Invasive Species, Brassica nigra.” Michael of Alderwood submitted a project titled, “Storm The Castle with Newton’s Second Law of Motion: Ping Pong Projectile.”

“Now in its fourth year, the Broadcom MASTERS is enabling more middle school students of all levels to regard math and science as helping them gain the critical skills that lead to rewarding careers in STEM,” said Paula Golden, executive director of the Broadcom Foundation and director of community affairs for the Broadcom Corporation. “We are extremely proud of the thousands of young people who were nominated by their regional and state fairs to compete this year and applaud the 300 semifinalists who now compete for a slot as one of the 30 finalists in the 2014 Broadcom MASTERS.”

To read the news release, click here. To view the complete list of semifinalists, click here.

Outdoor education programs remain a rite of passage for IUSD sixth-graders

Outdoor education trips have long been a highlight for IUSD sixth-graders, who get to travel to bucolic settings for five days of hands-on science instruction, hiking and games.

Boardwalk Through Lush ForestAnd that’s not changing, despite the Orange County Department of Education’s recent decision to end its overnight program.

In fact, nearly all of IUSD’s elementary schools and K-8s send their sixth-graders to private science camps for one week each year, and the two that have been participating in the county program — Santiago Hills Elementary School and Vista Verde School — have already secured spots at other camps.

“We are committed to outdoor science education for our students,” Cassie Parham, IUSD’s assistant superintendent of education services, told the NewsFlash on Thursday. “The changes at the county level won’t impact this commitment.”

Outdoor education programs have proven extremely popular in Irvine because — well, let’s face it — they’re fun. But they also represent a one-of-a-kind learning experience, Parham said.

“It’s an opportunity for students to learn team-building skills while engaging in hands-on science lessons,” she said. “It’s almost a rite of passage for kids.”

Jeffrey Trail Middle School earns honors at Southern California State Science Olympiad

Jeffrey Trail Science Olympiad Team

Irvine’s newest campus is already racking up the honors.

Just before the spring recess, we learned that a team of 15 students from Jeffrey Trail Middle School picked up a trophy at the 2014 Southern California State Science Olympiad, placing fifth among middle schools.

That’s an impressive feat for a school that opened just eight months earlier, especially given the highly competitive nature of the event.

Science Olympiad tournaments have been likened to academic track meets, comprising 23 individual and team events covering such disciplines as biology, Earth science, chemistry, physics and technology.

The Southern California State Science Olympiad, which was held April 5 at Canyon High School in Anaheim, featured more than 60 middle and high school teams, including a handful from IUSD. Jeffrey Trail’s team was coached by Kathy Marvin, who earned California Teacher of the Year honors in 2010, and Todd Munoz, who was named Jeffrey Trail’s Teacher of the Year for 2014.

“We are incredibly proud of our team of future scientists,” Marvin told the NewsFlash. “They have worked tirelessly since September, and they are beyond proud to bring Jeffrey Trail a first-place trophy in Orange County and fifth-place in the state of California.”

Irvine’s Sierra Vista Middle School also performed well, ranking 11th in the middle school division. At the high school level, Northwood High placed eighth, University High was tenth, Irvine High came in at No. 18 and Woodbridge High rounded out the field at No. 21.

To access the complete results, click here.

IPSF’s Science Little League is enrolling students now for its spring session

The IUSD science department has asked us to pass along word of an engaging opportunity for science-minded students in grades one through six.

Logo.Full.Lg.Color.CenterThere are a few more days to enroll for Science Little League, a fun and educational after-school program offered by the Irvine Public Schools Foundation. These courses, taught by IUSD teachers, encourage students to explore scientific concepts in a hands-on environment. There is a cost to participate, but some of the proceeds will benefit the district’s science program. Scholarship can also be pursued by filling out an application at www.ipsfacademy.org.

Each session consists of five 90-minute classes, which will be starting soon at Alderwood, Brywood, Culverdale, Greentree, Meadow Park, Oak Creek, Santiago Hills,Stone Creek, Stonegate and Turtle Rock and  Woodbury elementary schools, as well as Plaza Vista and Vista Verde K-8 schools. Organizers say there are still spots available, but enrollment ends this Friday, March 21.

[Update: The deadline has been extended until April 7 for the primary sessions at Brywood, Greentree, Stone Creek, Stonegate, University Park and Vista Verde.]

For more information or to register, go to www.ipsfacademy.org