Linden’s elementary inventors win three awards in statewide challenge

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LINDEN, NJ — A team of technology students from Linden’s School No. 4 and School No. 9 won three awards in the finals of the statewide STEAM Tank Challenge, drawing high praise from a panel of judges for their Read-O-Matic invention.

The students were honored for arts and creativity; justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion; and social-emotional learning. Linden’s team was one of more than 400 to enter the competition and one of 40 to make the finals after their first-round presentation.

“The students were outstanding,” said technology teacher Mitch Gorbunoff. “They spent the time between our last interview and this one conducting research, refining their prototype and preparing for this interview, and they excelled in all areas. They became the experts and shared that expertise with highly qualified judges.”

The Linden team is made up of the Student Vanguard technology club at School No. 4 and the fifth-grade gifted and talented students at School No. 9. They are Eva Bien, Jayden Countrymen, Izurum Efobi, Andrea Rivas, Izabelle Rivera and Heidy Yanes from School No. 4, and Rasha Bashir, Philipe Pajishvili, Mark Prieto, Mohammed Shawir and Nina Szczurowski from School No. 9.

The STEAM Tank Challenge encourages students and teachers to work collaboratively in science, technology, engineering, art and math. It also supports the development of critical thinking and problem-solving skills. The program was created by the New Jersey School Boards Association and is sponsored by the U.S. Army.

“I believe the students’ background knowledge and ability to clearly explain how the Read-O-Matic works impressed the judges,” Gorbunoff said. “Several of the judges had a personal connection to the struggle of learning to read, so this invention resonated with them.”

The Read-O-Matic is designed to help students learn letter sounds then blend them together. The students demonstrated the invention on Friday, May 20, virtually from the School No. 4 reading room to a panel of judges made up of educators from around the state. They took turns showing different features of the invention and explaining stages of their research and development.

Gorbunoff and the students were supported at the presentation by School No. 4 Principal Suzanne Olivero, School No. 9 acting Principal Antoinette Modrak, supervisor of instructional technology Joseph Scaldino, School No. 4 Vice Principal Rosalia Kolibas and School No. 9 gifted and talented teacher Stephanie Webb.
Judges told the students that, with more work, they could patent the Read-O-Matic to allow it to be used in classrooms to help young students learn how to read or even for adults learning a new language.

“The students are super excited to see what happens next,” Gorbunoff said. “Next year, our focus will be to distribute the Read-O-Matic to different classrooms across the district to gather data on the effectiveness of their invention, refining the programming and the design, and working with an attorney to secure a provisional patent on the idea.”

The Read-O-Matic uses a device called a Makey Makey, which allows any conductive material to be turned into a keystroke. Students use Scratch, a programming language, to code specific sounds each time certain keys are pressed. Users form letters out of Play-Doh then place these letters on metal squares on the board. When a user presses on a Play-Doh letter, the correct letter sound is heard.

“You can see the growth in these students that this process helped facilitate,” Gorbunoff said. “The future of the Read-O-Matic is bright, to be sure, but it’s these students and their potential that shines the brightest.”

Photos Courtesy of Gary Miller