Home PROGENY Competitors in Foxcroft School’s 11th Annual STEM Challenge Dive Into Ocean Conservation

Competitors in Foxcroft School’s 11th Annual STEM Challenge Dive Into Ocean Conservation

Local middle schools Harmony, Blue Ridge, and Mercer sweep their division and Foxcroft takes third in high school division during the annual science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) competition.


Foxcroft School’s 11th annual STEM Challenge brought 100 girls from 12 schools throughout Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, DC, to the School’s Middleburg campus to compete for prizes on February 19, 2022. Designed for middle and high school girls, participants used their knowledge of science, technology, engineering, and math to take on issues like ocean acidification, microplastics pollution, ocean farming, and more as they participated in challenges revolving around this year’s “Oceans 911” theme.

The winning Marvelous Manatees team from Bullis School in Potomac, MD, comprised of Grace Heinzelmann, Jalin Jenkins, Anna Rose Robinson, and Amiyah Turner, claimed the high school trophy, designed and fabricated by Foxcroft STEM students using the tools in The Innovation Lab. Second place in the high school division went to the Nifty Narwhals (Diane Nam, Shapari Ofogh, Lily Ru, and Minna Xu) from Madeira School in McLean, VA, while Foxcroft’s Terrific Turtles (seniors Claire Ai, Catherine Jin, Xinyi Shen, and Selina Xu) took third. The top three teams also each won one of the five individual challenges, while an additional team from Madeira and one from Bullis won a single challenge each.

In the middle school division, the Smashing Squids (Emma Edwards, Charlotte Gesell, Gwenyth Mayo, and Faith Pry) from Harmony Middle School in Hamilton, VA, took home the middle school trophy. Second place went to the Dashing Dolphins (Sarah Bader, Stella King, Norah McCormick, and Sophie Schober) from Blue Ridge Middle School in Purcellville, VA, and the Sassy Seahorses (Fiona Devaraj, Jiya Kapoor, Tanvi Naresh, and Abeni Smith) from Mercer Middle School in Aldie, VA, took home third. Each of the top three teams also won one of the five individual challenges, while a team from Washington Episcopal and another from Mercer also won a single challenge each.

Throughout the day, energy and enthusiasm filled Foxcroft’s Athletic/Student Center and Schoolhouse science labs as the girls, in teams of four, took on five different challenges. 

In the Biology Lab, teams analyzed a variety of plastic particles “collected from the beach by local high school marine biology students,” in an attempt to determine why Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola) were being seen less often off the coast of California. Students measured and calculated the density and buoyancy of the plastics, determined what types of marine feeders might mistake those plastic particles for food, then assessed which particles might be contributing to the mystery of the missing Ocean Sunfish and what other marine life might be affected by the loss of this majestic fish.

In the Chemistry Lab, students worked to restore harmony to the Galapagos ecosystem by investigating the cause of a shellfish die-off. During the challenge, students tested their knowledge of the pH scale by arranging items in order of pH and measuring the pH of several common household solutions. They also investigated the cause and impact of ocean acidification in two mini-experiments. 

Back in the Athletic/Student Center for the “Sea Slinger” event, students used popsicle sticks, rubber bands, and small cups to create a catapult to launch nanobot capsules (ping pong balls) into the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (a kiddie pool). The closer students got to the center of the pool, the more points they earned. The scoring part of the event was three minutes of pandemonium as multiple teams were firing balls and making adjustments to their catapults before time ran out. In the coding event, students learned to convert binary code to letters and from letters to binary code using a tool called a “Dolphin Flipper.” 

Each year, event sponsor Stryker Corporation brings several of their female engineers to not only create and administer one of the challenges but also share their experiences and answer questions from the young competitors during a career panel. The Stryker team’s engineering challenge involved math on unit conversions to figure out how much plastic to remove from the ocean, calculating the carbonate needed to help marine animals. 

Between challenges, students used Kindle Fires supplied by Foxcroft to answer questions about ocean conservation and earn raffle tickets for prizes ranging from gift cards to tech devices. Participants in the middle school competition also took tours of campus and learned a little more about Foxcroft’s focus on “girls in STEM” during a session with Head of School Cathy McGehee.

A leader in STEM education for girls, Foxcroft offers an innovative curriculum that addresses challenges facing tomorrow’s workforce and provides relevant and stimulating learning experiences. A signature program at the school, the STEM initiative emphasizes inquiry-based labs, using technology with confidence and ease, and hands-on problem-solving that extends well beyond the classroom. The annual STEM Challenge competition showcases Foxcroft’s innovative focus on the STEM fields. 

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