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STEM helps disabled


What do radio-controlled cars, cleaning products and helping the physically disabled have in common?

Mountain View Preparatory fifth-grader Michael Kintonis knows: It’s science, technology, engineering and math — or, more broadly speaking, thinking about the world with an eye to finding innovative solutions to everyday problems.

Kintonis beamed as he held up his creation, an RC car with a felt-covered, shovel-like attachment affixed to its front bumper. Unveiled during MVP’s STEM Fair Thursday, Feb. 23, the “RC Car Floor Cleaner” offers both an entertaining way to keep walkways clean and provide a solution to people who experience mobility problems.

“I invented it so people could have fun doing chores and help people who are handicapped,” Kintonis said, adding that during the invention process he envisioned what it might be like to be disabled by circumstance — proving that STEM subjects not only produce innovative thinking but compassion.

Fellow fifth-grader Emma Brener said that, by inventing The Baby Sitter Cheater Bottle, she hopes to alleviate some of the stress associated with watching children.

“It entertains babies,” Brener said, shaking a baby bottle containing a mixture of oil, water, glitter and sequins. “Don’t worry; it’s glued together so the baby can’t get it open.”

Brener admitted that her effort wasn’t entirely altruistic: Living in a house with other children sometimes gets to her.

“It’s just crying, all the time,” she said, laughing.

Maggie Sloniger, a third-grade teacher who led three Junior Robotics teams this year, said that using Legos to teach STEM subjects to kindergartners, first-, second- and third-graders is “tons of fun .... When you do an after-school activity, they really want to be there.”

This year, the Junior Robotics students learned about the interaction between animals and humans. Each team was presented with an opportunity to consider a problem created by such interaction and tasked with finding a solution, representing it through Lego creations.

First-grader Dominic Papa, one of Sloniger’s 18 pint-sized inventors, said that he would miss going to Junior Robotics each Monday after school let out.

“I liked building, and I liked the team I was working with,” Papa said, comparing what they’d done to characters in the recent Lego movie — envisioning creations in their heads and executing them, brick by brick, becoming Master Builders.

Sloniger’s partner in instruction, Title 1 Specialist Maci Moren, led another two teams and said that using the interlocking bricks to teach STEM subjects makes sense.

“Especially when you use Legos, they enjoy it so much,” Moren said, adding that she found the students’ enthusiasm infectious.

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