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Teaching Through Technology leadership conference connects students statewide

The sounds of teenagers filled a conference room inside of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Kuskokwim Campus. It was a Saturday afternoon this past Labor Day weekend. They were high school students from Bethel, Kipnuk, Quinhagak, and Chevak.

The students had a task at hand. It’s called the Marshmallow Challenge. The rules are simple: in 18 minutes, each group of four students can use 20 sticks of spaghetti, one yard of masking tape, one yard of string, and one marshmallow to build the tallest free-standing structure with the entire marshmallow on the top.

When the time ran out, one team of students from the Lower Kuskokwim School District was clearly victorious. Their marshmallow tower was 25.5 inches tall.

Bryan Owens, a 17-year-old student from the Kuskokwim Learning Academy, said that they had a clear strategy.

“We just started with, like, basic shapes and which ones that would, like, hold it a lot better, the structure,” Owens said.

Erica Paul attends Chief Paul Memorial School in Kipnuk. The 16-year-old student added the team’s design details. She said, “First we did the marshmallow, and then we started doing the pasta and doing the taping.”

The winning team was surprised by the win. Seventeen-year-old Christian Mark Jr., who hails from Quinhagak, said, “it was unexpected.” Senior Annelise Mark, also from Quinhagak, said that winning “felt amazing.”

The marshmallow challenge helps the participants to improve their innovative and problem-solving skills by helping to discover the value of prototyping.

This was just one of many activities and team building exercises at this year's Teaching Through Tech or T3 Student Leadership Conference, which was held over Labor Day weekend. Students flew into four hubs: Bethel, Anchorage, Juneau, and Fairbanks. The four hubs shared and collaborated remotely.

Gabe Low, a K-12 Outreach Specialist with the Alaska Earthquake Center, works with the T3 Program. He said that the T3 Alliance is a distributed network of schools, educators, and programs that support Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education throughout Alaska.

“And really, the world. There’s T3 programs all across the United States and even in other countries,” Low said.

T3’s current focus is on three emerging technological areas related to 3D printers, codeable digital devices, and drone autonomous systems.

Low said that the T3 program started through a University of Alaska Fairbanks grant that was originally the modern blanket toss. Low said that the blanket toss was a Native Alaskan tradition of throwing someone up in the air so that they could see further than they could on the ground.

“And modern blanket tosses were drones. So using drones in communities to see if we can teach students technology skills. Can they use those technology skills to solve community problems?” Low said.

Low also said that Bethel is a perfect example of how applied technologies have impacted communities.

“For example, in Bethel they looked at using drones to monitor breakup. And when, when rotten ice started to show up in Seward's communities, students looked at flooding and how you could map flooding better,” Low said.

Bethel Regional High School Upward Bound Vice President Sydney Lincoln also attended the conference. The 17-year-old junior said that she had learned a lot of new skills by participating in the program.

“I personally think that Upward Bound is really, really important to me, because it helped me a lot. It made me understand a lot of things. I didn't know what I wanted to be after I graduated high school. Upward Bound helped me choose a path to go to after high school that I didn't know that I would be able to go to,” Lincoln said.

Lincoln plans on going to the University of Alaska Fairbanks, but she said that if she gets enough scholarship money she will apply to the University of Oregon.

Francisco Martínezcuello was the KYUK News Reporting Fellow from November 2022 through January 2024. He is a graduate of UC Berkeley School of Journalism. He is also a veteran of the United States Marine Corps.
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