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Point High School students to present award-winning projects at NJSBA Workshop 2017STEAM Tank Challenge

Exciting things are underway in Point Pleasant Borough High School Room 206, where, under the tutelage of teacher Nick Gattuso, the Advanced Software Engineering Topics Class is working to finalize a pair of project presentations that they’ll showcase at the New Jersey School Boards Association’s upcoming Workshop 2017. On Tuesday, Oct. 24 the class will travel to Atlantic City, where they’ll present their projects - PALS HELP and the Point Pleasant Borough High School app - at the Second Annual STEAM Tank Challenge, a student invention competition created and sponsored by NJSBA and the U.S. Army.

Modeled after the popular “Shark Tank” television series, the STEAM Tank Challenge helps promote innovative STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) education initiatives taking place in New Jersey schools. For the Challenge, teams of students are encouraged to invent something new, modify an existing product, or identify a situation or problem that needs resolution. The teams of students present the design or solution, which is then judged by a panel of entrepreneurs, business leaders and inventors.

Initially launched at the NJSBA’s Workshop 2016, the program was such a hit that NJSBA expanded it to include three regional competitions. One-hundred-ninety-three applications were submitted by teams from across the state for consideration for 30 (fifteen K-8 and fifteen 9-12) spots in three regional semi-final competitions, which took place in spring 2017. Thirty-seven winning teams were selected from the 90 school district teams to advance to and compete at the STEAM Tank Finals at Workshop 2017, including the two teams from Mr. Gattuso’s class. Both teams will face off against each other and the other finalists to be named the statewide STEAM Tank champion.

First, the class will present the Hospital Education Learning Program, or HELP, developed as part of the Panther Assisted Learning Software, or PALS, suite of apps. The PALS apps are a suite of assistive learning applications that have been in development by Mr. Gattuso’s students over the last five years. The applications are designed for students enrolled in the high school’s Life Skills program for students with multiple disabilities.

The programming students develop the apps in close collaboration with the special needs students to design applications based on each special education students’ unique needs. Apps created so far under the PALS initiative, include, a navigational tool to help students new to the program navigate through the high school; a program to simplify units of liquid measure; a money-changing app; and a shopping simulator designed to help the students navigate the supermarket. PALS HELP is a new suite of tools designed to assist the Life Skills students with volunteer work they perform at a local hospital. The apps provide the students with a targeted educational foundation in specific vocational responsibilities related to their work.

Mr. Gattuso’s students will demonstrate PALS HELP’s first application – the PALS HELP Emergency Room Cabinet Locator - which visually identifies the materials that belong in the hospital’s Emergency and Respiratory Care Room supply cabinets that the Life Skills students restock.

NJSBA Workshop“The development of the PALS applications for the students in the Life Skills class aligns perfectly with the program’s goal of teaching vocational sufficiency while promoting community integration among students with multiple disabilities,” said Supervisor of Pupil Personnel Services Rita Miller. “PALS provides our students with multiple disabilities with new ways to achieve their potential, ultimately helping them to become independent members of the community.

In addition to PALS HELP, Mr. Gattuso’s students will also present the Point Pleasant Borough High School App to the judges at the STEAM Tank Challenge. The Point Pleasant Borough High School app, which is available for download on all Android and Apple devices, provides district high school students with key school information like daily announcements, lunch menus, schedules and calendars as well as local lunch spots and other helpful links. An update made to the app earlier this year added a new security feature that allows the district to send emergency alerts to notify students in the event of a school lockdown situation.

“Our high school has an open lunch policy, allowing students to leave campus during lunch,” said Superintendent Smith. “We struggled with a method by which we could notify students during emergency situations. Where the district’s Instant Alert System fell short, Mr. Gattuso’s students came to the rescue, making modifications to the high school information app based on my and the Point Pleasant Police Department’s specifications. The resulting app meets all the necessary requirements and enables us to send alerts from a secure, web-based control panel. In the event of a lockdown or other emergency, the app can be remotely activated to send a text notification advising students not to return to school.”

The teams will have five minutes to make their presentations during which time they will have to deliver an oral presentation and demonstrate their app to the panel of judges. The judges will then score the presentations based on an established rubric that rates each project on a number of factors including degree of innovation as well as the project’s link to sustainability, a new aspect of the competition. The ecological component was added to the competition in alignment with the Eco-Schools USA program. Eco-Schools USA is managed by the New Jersey Audubon Society, which includes NJSBA as a strategic partner. The winning presentation will receive prize money funded by a grant administered by the PSEG Foundation in connection with the National Wildlife Federation and in support of Eco-Schools USA.

 “We’re very confident,” Mr. Gattuso said of his teams’ chances of finishing at the top of the final competition. “Our students have worked very hard on their presentations, and they have the benefit of having been helped by a collective of outstanding teachers. From the start, this entire journey has been the result of a large team effort. [Drama teacher] Becky Muraglia coached the teams and provided direction for the oral presentations [art teacher] Kelly Mitreuter designed logos for our brochures and collateral materials, while [digital video teacher] Pete Casalino lent us camera equipment to review and critique our presentations and [industrial arts teacher] Jim Badecker built our props. Plus, we could never had made it this far without the full enthusiastic support, assistance and guidance of district and school administration and the Board of Education.”

School and district administration as well as members of the Board of Education will join Mr. Gattuso and his students at the Workshop, where they’ll be cheering from the sidelines as the students deliver their presentations.

“I’m really looking forward to watching our students on the final leg of this competition,” said Superintendent of Schools Vincent S. Smith. “This has been a long journey to make it to this point and I could not be prouder. This project exemplifies collaborative learning at its best. Working together on projects such as this helps our students become more effective learners, making them individually better students, but it also makes our school better, and promotes a culture of acceptance and inclusion throughout the district.

“Education and world leaders agree that a strong foundation in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics, or STEAM, is essential for students to be prepared to live and work in the 21st century,” he said. “Integrated, interdisciplinary STEAM education cohesively blends the five disciplines to teach students to apply principles of math and science and the use of technology to engineer or design solutions to real life problems. Through STEAM, students learn to think critically and to become effective problem solvers - essential skills in today’s global society.”

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