A team of students from Willett Elementary School placed fifth in a recent statewide competition at the California Future Problem Solvers convention in San Jose.
The team of students from teacher Niki Reina-Guerra’s fifth-grade class tackled a challenge involving “ocean soup,” in which students were asked to consider possible solutions to the growing problem of small bits of plastic floating in the sea and collecting in gyres where ocean currents run in a somewhat circular direction. The bits of plastic harm marine life.
“The challenge was to come up with ways to get the microplastics out,” Reina-Guerra said.
Student Damon Bains said, “Just like oil spills, the Styrofoam and other plastic stuff is hard to get out of the ocean.”
Student Erica Frederickson added, “In our challenge problem, the ocean pollution (in the future) would start affecting the economy in the state of Hawaii in the year 2036.”
Classmate Shaan Kajley said one of the approaches the Willett group recommended involved “helping the ocean by making plastic that will degrade in salt water in the dark.”
Another classmate, Georgia Eastham, said, “We were thinking, you don’t want the plastic to biodegrade in (normal) water because if the plastic is used for something like a water bottle, that’s not very good. We were thinking of something that would biodegrade in water with the salinity level of the ocean.”
Another classmate who went to the competition was Katie Stachowicz, who competed in an individual category.
“I did the same kind of problems — they had to do 16 solutions, I only had to do eight,” she said. “It was hard, but it was a really good experience. I hope I get to do it again.”
“I want to make it to state bowl next year,” added Damon.
“I think we all do,” said Katie.
Also making the trip to California Future Problem Solvers were two teams from the sixth-grade classroom at Willett taught by Marla Cook.
“One team from my class had Travis Cosgrave, Valerie Stewart, Julia Pan and William Ewens, plus alternate Alex Agnew,” Cook said. “The other team had Jake Goidell, Hailey Collier, Maren Klineberg and Sithmi Jayasundara, plus alternate Zhen Larsen.
“Each team reads the packet, chooses 16 challenges that would arise from the future scene, decides on one main ‘underlying problem,’ selects 16 ways to solve the underlying problem, establishes criteria by which to evaluate the solutions, weighs them, chooses one about which to write a ‘specific plan of action.’ All this is done by the team alone in a classroom, without any help, for two hours exactly. It’s an awesome challenge.”
Cook added, “Sixteen ‘junior teams’ (fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders) from all over the state were chosen to participate in the state finals based on a ‘qualifying problem’ each submitted and others scored. Three of the state’s 16 teams came from our school. That was awesome!”