A seventh grade advanced math class at Ponderosa Middle School is among the top five state finalists vying for the top prize from a national Science Technology Education Mathematics (STEM) competition.

The class plans to design, build, test, and submit a solar-powered air heating system to the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow contest, with guidance from their teacher Francisco Rico.

The $3 million competition, in its 10th year, attracted more than 2,000 applicants nationally and 300 at the state level this year. The national finalist is awarded a prize of $100,000.

The class entered the competition in November, and had about three weeks to work with Rico on an action plan. The plan is being edited by science and English teachers on staff prior to its submission to Samsung.

“The idea is to use our natural resources and take a look at our garages or a shed that we have here in town that are unheated … and make it workable in the winter,” Rico said.

“If you’re selected as one of the national finalists, then you get to travel and compete.”

Advancement opportunity

As a state finalist, Rico and his class were awarded a Samsung tablet and the opportunity to advance to higher levels within the competition.

Samsung also provides funding for construction of a prototype as well as travel to competition, according to Rico.

Rico said he was inspired by his middle school math teacher growing up in Klamath Falls, and wants to do the same for his students.

In his fourth year of teaching, Rico said he loves teaching students about the importance of math in everyday life through the project.

“Most of the work up front is the teacher, but then after the action plan, the kids take over,” Rico said.

Students are led by three student leaders, who oversee design, construction, and testing of a prototype.

By the numbers

“The kids can really see, especially in this project, how much math it actually takes to do anything,” Rico said.

“An invention, planning it, the building, the testing, so they can actually see – Look, here is where you’ve got to use certain types of math.”

Ryan Glidden, 13, is one of three student team leaders will lead the design team. His dreams of becoming an architect when he grows up also align perfectly for his role.

“I like the fact that I can be creative,” Glidden said.

Rico walked about the class Wednesday afternoon as students played paper, rock, scissors. But it wasn’t just for fun. Students were estimating the probability and fairness of the game.

It’s important to Rico that math is fun for students, and that’s a big part of participating in the contest, too.

“It’s a good way for us to get to know how to do things so when you’re in college and you have projects to do, you know kind of how to work with other people,” said Hydee Christian, 13.

Eyes on the prize

Students are excited to see where the contest takes them, too.

“I think we could make it pretty far,” Glidden said.

Rico said the class will be updated on the process before Dec. 15.

Ponderosa Middle School has a tradition of excelling in the mathematics world.

Already this year, Ponderosa’s Math Club won first place in regional competition and Destination Imagination ranked fifth place in a worldwide competition.