bulbAsset 2Coffeeemailfacebook-dsdVector Smart Objectemailhandsinstagram-dsadaketchun-logolinkedin-dasdasquote-startVector Smart Object1searchtrophy2Asset 2twitter-dsadafacebook

Q&A with Cindy Smyser about ExploraVision Tips for Success


Thirty-two years ago, Toshiba partnered with the National Science Teaching Association (NSTA) to launch ExploraVision, the world’s largest K-12 science competition. ExploraVision invites students in grades K-12 to pair up in teams of two to four, to work with their teachers, to identify a problem facing our world today. Students then research scientific principles and technologies to design innovative new solutions that would address the problem they want to answer. Winners will get the chance to present their ideas to executives from Toshiba, NSTA and other VIPs. Participants can win prizes, including $10,000 U.S. Series EE Savings Bonds (at maturity). 

ExploraVision doesn’t run without teachers (a.k.a. coaches) — The students that go the farthest have a teacher guiding them through the process. Cindy Smyser is one of those influential teachers who helps inspire students to think big and use problem solving, critical thinking and teamwork to imagine solutions for real-life issues. Ms. Smyser is a teacher at the University of Illinois Laboratory High School in Urbana, Illinois, where she teaches ninth through 12th grade. Out of the five years participating in ExploraVision, she’s helped students place first or second, three different times. Ms. Smyser is sharing her winning advice on how she gets her students involved in ExploraVision and how she encourages them to think outside the box. 

Q: What three pieces of advice would you offer to first year teachers participating in ExploraVision? 

A: First, let the students take the lead. Let them decide what they want their project to be. Don’t curtail their ideas. Don’t tell them that something won’t work because you’ll be amazed at what they’ll come up with. 

Second, rather than starting with a piece of technology, have students research an issue that’s important to them and come up with an engineered solution to that issue. For example, a lot of my students want to start with nanobots. Nanobots are very popular, but students’ projects will work out much better if they start with the problem they want to answer instead of the piece of technology. 

The final piece of advice is to always be positive and supportive.

Q: How do you help your team brainstorm ExploraVision topics and pick a focus for their project? 

A: I take myself out of the process. I focus on being there to guide students through ExploraVision by having them start with the issue that they want to address, first. If students find an issue they’re passionate about, they’ll build a much more innovative project. 

Q: How do you implement ExploraVision in your classroom? Is it a requirement, extra-curricular, extra credit?

A: Initially, I included ExploraVision in my classroom curriculum but because I now teach different classes and grades, I encourage students to participate in ExploraVision as an extracurricular activity.

Q: How do you help students stay motivated? 

A: Thankfully, staying motivated is not typically an issue for my students, however, they sometimes don’t realize how much work goes into creating an ExploraVision project. So, to help with their time management, I give my students deadlines that they must meet along the way, so they stay on track with the ExploraVision deadlines. 

Q: Why would you recommend ExploraVision to your fellow teachers? 

A: ExploraVision is an absolutely amazing opportunity for enrichment outside your typical curriculum. This is an opportunity for students to be creative and delve deeply into something that’s important to them. I think that’s why the projects that my students create are so tremendous. 

Q: What are the positive benefits you’ve seen for yourself and for your students through participating in this ExploraVision competition? 

A: The ExploraVision process is something that students can take in their own direction, and they can deeply investigate something that’s important to them. ExploraVision is an opportunity for students to learn what they want to learn, which gets them excited about STEM.


ExploraVision is now open for entries until January 31, at ExploraVision.org. You can help your students sign up for FREE, now. For more inspiration, check out the website to review past students’ winning ExploraVision projects and other fun ways teachers incorporate ExploraVision into their lesson plans to keep their students motivated. Sign up for FREE lesson plan at https://www.exploravision.org/lesson-plans-for-teachers/

The top 32 teachers who submit 32 eligible online ExploraVision entries are eligible to receive a special teacher prize. If you bring a fellow teacher to the ExploraVision community, you receive an ExploraVision community gift! Watch this minute video on Bringing Fellow Teachers to the ExploraVision program to find out more.