Freedom Middle School students traveled to Purdue University on December 9 to compete against six other teams across the nation, including sister school Poplar Grove Middle, in a STEM-based competition called TECHFIT (Teaching Engineering Concepts to Harness Future Innovators and Technologists). On December 10, after presenting a powerpoint presentation and its original technology based fitness game, judges announced that the Freedom Middle team won the competition, now in its fifth year of funding through the Purdue University College of Engineering and the National Science Foundation.
Only seven invitations were issued and, based on a video submission and an on-site judges’ review, Poplar Grove Middle and Freedom Middle were selected to move on to the national competition in West Lafayette, Indiana. Students have spent many months designing, coding and constructing the “exergame.”
Competing teams presented their TECHFIT experience and demonstrated their exergame innovation at the Purdue Recreational Sports Facility. “After seeing all of the schools present their exergame, we knew we had a challenge,” said sponsoring teacher Patty Littlejohn. “We were on pins and needles! There were so many good aspects in every school’s game and presentation.”
Littlejohn said that the judges were very complimentary of the work the students had put in. One judge said, “It is very obvious your team spent time and effort actually going through what you were doing in presentation and administration – it wasn’t off the cuff.” Another judge said, “You engaged the judges, you actually approached us and gave us handouts and group documentation of your process. That shows process and product documentation.” Other notables included compliments on the music and the actual physical construction of the game. Littlejohn is thankful for the school and district’s sponsorship of this program. “We, as teachers, feel each student is learning STEM skills that will impact the rest of their life: designing, building, programming, wiring, testing, evaluating, and collaboration.”
This past summer, 50 teachers from 30 schools in nine states completed an intensive, professional development program that equipped them with knowledge, skills, and technology to design and implement exergames. This fall most of these schools along with a few schools from past years ran their own 3-4 month afterschool program or taught a class during school to teach their students these same skills and to engage them in the design, development, programming, implementation, assessment, and promotion of their own “exergame” inventions. Only eight schools made the cut and six schools were able to make the trip to Indiana for the competition.
TECHFIT is funded by the National Science Foundation and seeks to spark interest in STEM, especially computational thinking, in middle school children by teaching them how these skills will help them innovate technology-based fitness exergames.