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Imagination Wins at the NSTA/Toshiba ExploraVision 2014 Competition


By Juliana Texley

In many textbooks you’ll find a page on the scientific method. But of course there’s no such thing—the method is a myth. There is no single path to scientific discovery. The perspectives and procedures of history’s great discoverers and inventors are amazingly diverse. But it’s safe to say that they all began with imagination.

That same sort of imagination is the hallmark of one of the most inspiring competitions for young people today—Toshiba’s ExploraVision Competition. Last weekend, the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) was privileged to host and publicize the winners of its 22nd annual competition, through which more than 330,000 students have participated, making it the world’s largest K-12 science competition. Winning teams from primary through high school explained their proposed inventions to visitors, members of Congress, visiting executives from Toshiba, the Japanese Consulate, and the press with an aplomb that would amaze the most experienced newscaster.

There is no better showcase for the many methods of science and engineering than this event. In the words of one visitor, this program epitomized STEM long before the acronym for integrated science, technology, engineering and mathematics was “cool.” Responding to a constant stream of visitors and reporters, team members as young as seven took turns explaining science and team engineering.

Giving the group just a little bit of the history of the Toshiba America Foundation, Director John Anderson reminded us that STEM was “in the DNA” of the corporation and its representatives. He also reminded the teachers and parents there that the process of engineering, which includes cooperation, design, testing, negotiation and redesign, changes not just our technology but the participants forever.

If you could have walked with me around the foyer of the House of Representatives you would have seen what I mean. Elementary students asked how the dangers of hot cars and rip currents could be avoided—and designed solutions. Middle school students considered the problems of iced airplane wings and fresh water supply. Taking their inspiration from nature, high school students suggested futuristic answers, too. There were prototypes of kidney prostheses and microgenerators that took their power from the heat of the human body. The Oregon team gave up their traditional graduation ceremonies to participate in the expo. (Of course, graduating in the Washington office of your state senator isn’t that bad, either!)

Senators James Inhofe of Oklahoma, John Isakson of Georgia, and Saxby Chamblis of Georgia joined the group at breakfast. Isakson told the students that their creativity was vital to solve the problems that the adult generation would encounter as they aged and both credited the sort of STEM education represented at Toshiba as the key to a bright future for our nations.

Toshiba executives including Chairman of the Board Atsutoshi Nishida, chairman of the Board of Toshiba, flew all the way to Washington, DC from Tokyo just to celebrate the program and the students.

Throughout the two-day event, there was a spirit of innovation. Many of the teams were already planning for future collaborations. And even though the students had most of the spotlight, at every station there were teachers and mentors who had that “magic touch.” They were able to nurture creativity without skipping a beat in curriculum. From one student group I heard the story: “The day we got back to school last September my teacher said: “I’ve been thinking about you all summer. You can do something amazing this year…” While they were less conspicuously honored, these teachers and mentors were true heroes in the nation’s educational community.

Thanks to Toshiba and NSTA, I began my presidential year inspired! These “real students” and “real teachers” epitomize the potential of today’s STEM education. (Very real! In between media interviews, the students did play a bit of elevator tag!)

What I couldn’t find at Exploravision were limits—limits to methods, limits to cost or effort, limits to the imagination. I really hope that every science teacher can be inspired by the limitless potential of the Toshiba winners and find the same inspiration in what they do every day.

Learn more about the Toshiba ExploraVision Competition and how young minds drive tomorrow’s innovation!