2100 Panther Path, Point Pleasant, NJ 08742  |  (732) 701-1900  

High school wins big at STEAM Tank Challenge

When used constructively, technology enhances standards-based learning across the curriculum. Because technological fluency is essential for living and STEAM Tank Challengeworking in the 21st century and beyond, the Point Pleasant Borough School District has made every effort to integrate technology into virtually every curriculum area.

Technology is more than a supplemental learning tool, however, comprising its own curriculum content area, the goal of which is to teach students to become independent, responsible and effective users of information and technology. Through daily, interdisciplinary technology use, district students learn to conduct research, solve problems, and think critically while gaining essential communication and vocational skills that are necessary for success in today’s global economy.

“The Point Pleasant Borough School District offers diverse opportunities for students to become proficient users of computers and mobile technology as well as to learn valuable programming and back end design skills,” said Superintendent of Schools Vincent S. Smith. “These opportunities have better prepared our students for the technological demands that await them at college and in their professional lives and have provided them with increased opportunities to achieve success.”

The technology-based educational opportunities available in Point Pleasant Borough High School teacher Nick Gattuso’s class have gone a step further, not only providing students with opportunities for personal achievement and to gain professional experience but also allowing them to put their technological savvy to use to affect lasting positive change in their school and the surrounding community with the development of a series of specialized applications and programs.

The understanding that students taking his classes will use their programming skills to affect positive change stems from Mr. Gattuso’s idealistic approach to computer programming – both as a teacher and in practice – which has been inspired by a moral imperative to make a positive difference in the lives of others.

“I try to teach my students how to use their programming, engineering and problem-solving skills for good,” said Mr. Gattuso.

STEAM Tank PalsWhen each new project is introduced, Mr. Gattuso assembles his students into traditional project management teams, with a resource manager, technical manager and lead programmer, who work together to complete the assigned project.

Panther Assisted Learning Software, or PALS, is one such project. PALS is 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.

During the development phase, the programming students work alongside 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.

“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.

“The development of these apps has also facilitated increased interaction between our students with multiple disabilities and their non-disabled peers,” she said. “This interaction is central to the inclusive school climate that we have been working to foster in the Point Pleasant Borough School District.”STEAM Tank PPBHS App Demo

This close collaboration has inspired the concept for a new suite of tools called PALS Hospital Education Learning Program, or PALS HELP, currently in the beginning stages of development. PALS HELP will assist the Life Skills students with volunteer work they perform at a local hospital, providing them with a targeted educational foundation in specific vocational responsibilities related to their work.

Mr. Gattuso’s students recently unveiled the first application in the PALS HELP suite – 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 – at the Central Region Semi-Finals of the 2017 STEAM Tank Challenge, where it was one of six high school programs selected from the region to advance to the State-level of the competition.

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. Now in its second year, the Challenge, which was created and is co-sponsored by the New Jersey School Boards Association’s [NJSBA] and the U.S. Army, invites school district teams to compete in creative problem-solving.

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.

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. Six winning teams from each grade bracket were selected from each regional competition – 36 teams in total – to advance to and compete at the STEAM Tank Finals which will be held Oct. 24 and 25 during the 2017 NJSBA Workshop conference in Atlantic City. Among the teams that will compete in this year’s Workshop Challenge at the high school level are not one but two teams of Mr. Gattuso’s students.

STEAM Tank PalsIn addition to PALS HELP, Mr. Gattuso’s students also presented 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 will send a text notification advising students not to return to school.”

The PALS HELP Team was: Jane DeRensis; Frank Hulse; Maggie McKeon; Samantha Inneo; and Kimmy Sleys.

The PPBHS Smartphone App Team was: Kristen Stanfield; Devin Moeller; Jake Ippolito; Matthew Moran; and Jack Diehl.

On May 12, both software development teams, along with their classmates from Mr. Gattuso’s Software Engineering Topics class, Superintendent Smith, Director of Curriculum & Instruction Susan Ladd, Ed.D., Point Pleasant Borough High School Principal Kurt Karcich, Supervisor of Technology Kevin McDermitt, select students from the Life Skills class and high school drama teacher Becky Muraglia, who wrote and directed the app presentations, traveled to the MG William S. Stryker United States Army Reserve Center in Trenton for the Central Region STEAM Tank Challenge, where the two teams presented their projects in two three-minute presentations.

“It was stressful,” said Mr. Gattuso. “We only had three minutes during which this giant clock was ticking down our time. Plus, we were the very first school to present.”

But Mr. Gattuso needn’t have worried as he received notice as the bus was returning to Point Pleasant Borough High School that both projects were named Challenge finalists.STEAM PPBHS App

“It was a total team effort,” he said. “Mrs. Muraglia coached us and directed the skits, Art Teacher Kelly Mitreuter designed the logos for the brochures and collateral materials, Digital Video Teacher Pete Casalino lent us camera equipment and Industrial Arts Teacher Jim Badecker built our props. Plus, we had the full enthusiastic support of district and school administration and the Board of Education. We couldn’t have done it without everyone’s assistance, support and guidance.”

“This project exemplifies collaborative learning at its best,” said Superintendent Smith. “Working together on projects such as this not only helps our students learn better, 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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