Bismarck Students Honored For Community Science Project

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For Immediate Release
Contact: Dale Wetzel, Public Information Specialist
Office 701-328-2247
Cell: 701-400-8557
Bismarck Students Honored For Community Science Project

BISMARCK, N.D., April 11, 2017 -- Gov. Doug Burgum and State School Superintendent Kirsten Baesler on Tuesday presented a Department of Public Instruction education innovation award to Simle Middle School teacher Ryan Townsend’s science students.

The students have been developing a solar-powered station for recharging mobile phones and electronics, which they hope to place on park grounds. The project has already won a North Dakota state prize from Samsung Electronics America Inc., a supplier of mobile phones, televisions, laptops and other consumer electronics gear.

Townsend teaches two sections of STEAM classes (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics) at Simle. The two classes have about 50 students in all. They use a “project-based learning” approach, in which students learn elements of a number of disciplines while working on a specific project.

Townsend said his students began with an idea to develop a solar-powered car. However, the focus shifted to designing and building a mobile phone charging station, powered by a solar panel. “They turned it into a project that any number of people will be able to use,” Townsend said.

Burgum and Baesler presented the innovation award to Townsend and his students Tuesday during a ceremony in the Simle Middle School library. The governor called the effort “an excellent example of how teachers can spark interest in science and engineering by encouraging real-world applications of technology.”

“By pursuing the project beyond the classroom, students are gaining valuable knowledge of civics, logistics and other subjects,” Burgum said. “Congratulations to Mr. Townsend and his talented students on this well-deserved award.”

Baesler said the Legislature’s approval of SB2186, a bill designed to make it easier for schools to offer innovative learning opportunities, could encourage more learning projects similar to the one being done in Townsend’s class. Gov. Burgum signed the bill April 3; it takes effect Aug. 1.

“This bill promotes the sharing of creative education practices among our schools,” Baesler said. “This bill gives our schools the opportunity to prepare multi-year innovation plans, with the support of the school board, teachers, school staff, parents and members of the community. Innovation requires us to take a close look at our current practices, and think about ways to make them better.”

As part of their project, the Simle students have consulted several experts, including electricians, an engineer, and an astronomer. The astronomer told them of the need to place the station’s solar panel in an open space, facing south, at angles needed to capture the optimum amount of sunlight.

Shawn Oban, a Bismarck city commissioner and principal at Highland Acres and Roosevelt elementary schools in Bismarck, told the students of the importance of soliciting community opinions about where the station should be located. Simle itself is located next door to Lions-Hillside Park, one of Bismarck’s larger parks, which has an aquatic complex, skateboard park, tennis courts and two large picnic shelters.

The students hope to have a prototype built by the time the school year ends on May 26. Materials needed for the station have cost about $900 so far, including the solar panel, batteries and an inverter to make the electricity suitable for a charging station.

“We’re not just learning about solar power here. We’re learning about supporting our community,” Townsend said. “We’re talking science, we’re talking math, we’re talking engineering, we’re talking civics and art. You can get all of those things from a project like this.”