Mr. Matthew Parets, Montverde Academy Upper-school Computer Science teacher, is also MVA’s Programming Team adviser.  He recently informed Montverde Academy’s Communications Department that MVA STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) SAC (Study Area Concentration) Diploma program students spent the last few weeks of the past semester exploring the duel ideas of problem solving and discovery in their year-end high experiments.  Specifically, during the last STEM meeting of the year, students were handed computer punch cards for a “puzzle-hunt” and told “Go” (If you are old enough you may remember Computer Punch Cards).  To many people, punch cards were the USB flash drives of a more archaic era of computer history.  Each card held eighty characters of information encoded as holes in the cards. To start the hunt, students had to figure out what the cards were, and how to decode them.  There were four different cards to encourage collaboration, each with part of the stage one clue.  Once decoded, the message gave the students the latitude and longitude of a GPS location on campus.  According to Mr. Parets, if a STEM student went to that location, using Google Maps as their guide, they found a tree.  Rather than hidden on the ground, amongst the roots, stage two of the hunt was “hanging from a branch, hidden in the leaves; a QR Code.”  QR codes are those checkerboard that you commonly see adorning advertising signs and information labels. 

Once scanned with the student’s iPad, the QR code loaded the last part of the hunt; a Rebus puzzle.  A Rebus is a little more obscure than QR codes (If you remember the old TV game show Concentration then you know what a Rebus is).  “A Rebus is a series of pictures that, when taken together, spell out a word or phrase,” said Mr. Parets.  The Rebus spelled out the phrase “Riches await. See Doctor Browdy. Knock twice. Say please.” Students who visited Dr. Ann Browdy, Upper-school Mathematics teacher, received a goody bag (after knocking twice and saying please) containing a farewell message (with related prizes): To our favorite nerds (the Nerds candy) and future rocket scientists (tiny UFO’s) enjoy the summer (glow in the dark sun shades) and stay bright (glow stick bracelet). 

The dual themes of discovery and experimentation were followed all year. In addition to the standard weekly excitement the STEM group took part in other methodical initiatives.  In a particular series of experiments, students were given a piece of paper and challenged to get the paper from one side of the Roberts Gym to the other.  It was quickly discovered that the paper wadded up into a ball would travel farther then a flat sheet.  Experimentation then showed that a tightly packed ball would travel farther than a loosely packed one.  Folding the paper into an airplane allowed for the longest hang time and greatest distance.  Over a series of weeks this discovery and experimentation settled on those two goals – distance and hang time.  At the start of each meeting a contest was held to show off the latest designs and allow for discussion and tweaking.  The goal was always to have everyone participating in finding solutions, suggesting ideas, making everyone’s best even better.  Once we declared the best in distance we repeated the exercise with hang time.  Designs changed to follow the new idea, exercising brains and showing possibilities.  Edging the others out by a tiny margin in both challenges was Auston Pownall.  However, with all of the experimentation and collaboration everyone was a winner.

In December, STEM students hosted a site in the Hour of Code, an initiative sponsored by Code.org with the aim of introducing everyone to the Modern Super Power that is programming.  In the spring select members pitched in as part of the Foldscope project, testing and building resources for a project sponsored by Stanford University with the lofty goal of bring science and discovery to every person in the world.