WALLENPAUPACK -  STEM enthusiasts found themselves attempting to craft the highest tower with straws, marshmallows and more recently. During Innovation Night at Wallenpaupack North Intermediate School, students and their families arrived at an event organized and led by a team of high school problem solvers, who decided to put their own “spin” on the evening that many had participated in before, said junior and team leader Logan Crouthamel.

While the district had hosted three Innovation Nights this year already, this was the first where the problem-solving math and science students were completely in charge. Together, Crouthamel and Brydee Burke communicated with their classmates and decided more than just one challenge was needed; so, there were an additional five mini challenges as well as the main challenge. For the big test, students and their families had to build a boat that’d hold the most pennies and one of the five mini-challenges required the participants to make the tallest tower using straws and other varying objects.

Prior to the start of the evening, Crouthamel said she loves Innovation Night because of her liking of science, technology, engineering and math, so to be involved was a chance to do something she enjoyed. Crouthamel commended teachers and students for their help and was most looking forward to seeing families work together, in part because it was the largest Innovation Night yet.

Burke too, said she was “super excited” for the evening because she was looking forward to watching the 69 families work together to complete the different tasks. To make a boat, that she felt was “very intuitive” for children, but an additional component required participants to think more critically when they used $4.00 of fake money to buy supplies.

The winner of a mini challenge, with a tower reaching 72 centimeters in height, was a proud six-grader Aiden Beheran, who started on a team with his sister, but later decided to step away to build his own tower. From the start, Beheran said he had “awesome ideas” that consisted of taking straws and fitting them into additional straws. The idea, was “simple” but also required scissors to ensure the straws were the same height and able to support the marshmallows. For further stability, he used tape at the base of the straws to better support his tower. Then, considering the area surrounding his workstation, Beheran noticed a nearby ceiling vent that determined where he placed his tower. Beheran said he was “super happy” with the “beautiful tower” because the final design didn’t change much from his initial idea and it was a solid design. Someday, the young engineer would like to work with NASCAR.

Michael Macedonia was at Innovation Night with his 8-year-old daughter Michaela where they used tinfoil, rubber bands, glue, a sponge and two corks to make their boat. The project, Michael said was “a lot of fun” because as he worked with his daughter he focused on functionality while Michaela considered the design of their craft. In the end, the design evolved and ended up taking on a “life of its own.”

Michael said he especially liked the evening because it was a STEM program, which he hopes Michaela will become more interested in so she realizes that math, engineering and technology can be “pretty” but is also relevant to the different subjects. Michaela’s two brothers participated in the night as well.

Julianna O’Brien worked with her dad Maxim Trifonov to build a boat that held 99 pennies. The final boat was made of tinfoil and a cup with two sticks, but the team started by drawing their idea out on paper, and once they felt it “made sense,” Trifonov said they built their craft. In the end, O’Brien said she was proud of their boat, even though she didn’t expect it hold 99 pennies. Innovation Night, Trifonov said is a “good exercise” for families because of how the tasks makes everyone think, but also it was a “bonding” opportunity. This was the family’s second innovation night and now, they will “definitely” attend more.

At one point in the evening, a speaker talked to parents and explained how learning today, is different than when they were in school and there’s a reason lessons are done differently. “Number sense” for instance, is a concept of using reason with numbers, rather than just calculating them, so the “why” of the assignment is better understood. Before, learning was about memorizing and following procedures to find answers, but today it’s important that children understand “why” so they can better use tools and formulate strategies to complete the task and retain the information.

In an email following the final Innovation Night of the year, District STEM Supervisor Dr. Clayton LaCoe III said the hope is to continue hosting the evenings and the most recent was a “great success” with over 200 members of the community joining together for a “night of problem solving, creative thinking and family time.”