Bonner County Daily Bee – Local News, Southside students take FabSLAM honors

COCOLALLA — Southside Elementary’s two FabSLAM teams nearly cleaned house at this year’s North Idaho FabSLAM regional competition, taking home three of four awards.

“We were really excited,” said Southside fifth-grader Sara McConnell, whose team won first place for their Land Water Cleaner Rover design. “I was shocked for about three days.”

Sara designed the rover with her teammates, fifth-graders Rachel Aylward and Josey Wallace. The sixth-grade team, the “Solar Stars,” designed a Fire Retardant Safety Drone, which won third place in the competition. The group also won the Student Choice award, which is voted on by the students from around the region who participate in the competition. Making up the sixth-grade team was Baylee Nuttman, Kaydince Wells, Georgia Shirley and Mercedes Etzwiler.

“Both teams did an amazing job presenting and coming together, using their creativity, communicating with each other, and building their design using that engineering design process,” said Southside librarian and STEAM coordinator Lynette Leonard. “I think they really have that down, how that process works and what it takes to take a product from just a thought to a prototype, and thinking about how you can make it better in the future and build upon that.”

FabSLAM is a national competition that started in 2013, teaching kids about 3D fabrication and design. Idaho is one of only three states that currently participate in the program, and this is the second year Southside has participated in the regional competition. Last year’s team took first place and student choice for their 3D printed snowshoes that could fold up and fit in a backpack. While last year’s theme was transportation, this year’s focus was natural resources.

The fifth-grade team said after brainstorming ideas, they came up with the Land Water Cleaner Rover, which they decided would be the most needed and practical of their ideas. The rover is made to go on land and water picking up trash, cleaning up oil in water and other debris in the waterways.

The rover will be able to control itself, or it can be controlled manually, Sara said. And it will be powered by solar panels, Josey added.

“It will also be able to take the trash it collects and move it up on to the top of it … If we had time to completely finish the project, we would add a little bin so it could hold all the trash,” Rachel said.

Sara and Josey said the prototype took a few weeks to get right, as they were deciding on the shape of the body, the wheels, the arms and the floats. While the group was nervous when it came time for the competition, they were ready. They did practice a bit ahead of time, and while they didn’t get much feedback from the judges, their hard work paid off.

“I think what they liked about it most is there were a lot of water cleaners there, but ours would go on both land and water,” Rachel said.

“I’m still trying to make sure I’m not dreaming,” she added about her team taking the first place award.

The sixth-grade team also brainstormed ideas, and initially landed on solar power. While they said they dropped that like a hot rock when they started talking about the California wildfires, their drone will incorporate solar power for energy as part of their future iterations. The project evolved after Mercedes came up with an idea for sprinklers in the forest that could spray fire retardant, and then Baylee came up with the idea for the drone.

After quite a bit of brainstorming and problem solving, the group said they decided to focus on housefires and helping the homeowner get out of there safely and protect their house from the wildfires. The drone is “highly” recommended for homeowners who live in the forest, Kaydince said.

Leonard contacted the Bureau of Land Management to find out about fire retardant and see how much the drone should and could hold. The recommendation was 65 pounds, the group said. Also in future iterations, they hope to take it beyond the 3D-printed prototype and have Baylee’s dad, who is a professional welder, make a drone out of metal. They also plan to add a heat monitor, so if the drone is too close to the fire it will move away. It would also detect how far away the fire is and the wind speeds, Mercedes said.

Overall, the group said they learned a lot throughout the entire process of designing, printing and taking their prototype to competition.

“We learned the basics of building a drone, we learned how to work as a team under pressure — we learned to work as a team no matter what,” Kaydince said.

As for the competition, Kaydince said both teams did really well, taking three of the four awards, giving kudos to their fifth-grade counterparts for taking the first place prize. Mercedes said the competition was “really stressful,” however.

“There was a whole bunch of people there who had some awesome ideas,” Mercedes said.

As with any project, the process wasn’t without fails for either team, including Mercedes deleting the website — and it wasn’t the first time.

“My elbow accidently hit the mouse, the mouse hit a button, and then the button deleted the whole website,” she said. “It was two weeks prior to the competition. I deleted it last year, too, but last year it was like a day before the competition.”

She fixed it in time for last year’s competition, so because she had more time this year, Mercedes calmly assured her team, “It’s OK, I did it last year, I can get through this.”

The 3D printing for the LWCR took a total of 17 hours, with 12 for the body and two hours for each wheel. The FRSD took 24 hours, as the body took 16 hours to print, and each of the four arms took 2 hours. They used a 3D pen to attach the arms to the side of the drone as well, Georgia said.

The groups spent several weeks getting their prototypes ready for the competition, which was held at North Idaho College last Saturday.

“I think it went really well,” Leonard said. “It was very stressful because we had snow days and things like that, so I think this year we had less time to design and do other things … FabSLAM is just a wonderful program that is allowing girls especially — we want girls in STEAM, we want them going into those fields, and it’s drawing them out. They are learning the STEAM skills and the things that will help them be successful. It may be a challenging program, but the outcome and the learning that comes from it is worth those challenges.”

“And it’s worth the lunches,” Mercedes added, as the girls sacrificed lunch hours to work on their projects.

Although the competition is over, most of the youths said they hope to continue sacrificing lunches to continue working on their projects as well.

Southside’s FabSLAM efforts are funded by grants from Idaho Stem Action Center, and the awards came with prizes to support the program as well, including $500 for first place.

Mary Malone can be reached by email at and follow her on Twitter @MaryDailyBee.

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