Middle-school students win Chicago Maker Challenge

Chicago Sun Times - Virginia Barreda @vbarreda2 | email

When Naomi Ellis and the rest of her team from Carter School of Excellence heard they had won the third annual Chicago Maker Challenge, Naomi made an acceptance speech that one person called “Oscar-esque” for her desire to share the credit.

Chicago Maker Challenge teammates Naomi Ellis (left) and Ajah Farrow from Carter School of Excellence.

Ellis and her teammates knew their grand prize in the Challenge’s accessibility solutions category would not have been possible without support from their mentors and school.

“[Naomi] said ‘I need to thank my people,'” said Erin Liedelle, Citizen Schools campus director at Carter. “It was very heartfelt. She said thank you to ‘anyone that has helped make [her] dreams come true.'”

The smartphone app prototype called Earit provides information to users about hearing loss. It includes videos with closed-captioning and provides a test to check hearing ability.

“The solution we created has all of the information you might need in one place,” said Naomi, a fifth-grader at Carter, 5740 S. Michigan Ave. “[It includes] the causes, the symptoms, preventions and where to get yourself checked out for a low cost.”

The Challenge, sponsored by the Motorola Mobility Foundation, Citizen Schools and the Chicago Public Library, asks middle-school students to invent a product or a device that solves a problem in the community or for people with disabilities.

Motorola Mobility Foundation manager Monica Hauser said the Maker Challenge provides students with the opportunity to work with technology and learn problem-solving skills.

“This experience empowers them to look at the community, identify the problems and then gives them the confidence to solve them,” Hauser said.

The winners for the community solutions category was a team from Monroe Elementary, who submitted a project they called “H2more.”

Monroe student Emiliano Torres said he couldn’t believe it when he found out his group had won.

“At first, when they were calling the group names, I heard them call the other group up first. I thought they were going to win. Then, I heard ‘and for the grand prize … H2more.’ That’s when I got really happy and excited,” Torres said.

H2more is a water distribution system for the household sink that helps recycle clean water.

Winners of the Chicago Maker Challenge from Monroe Elementary, Christopher Martinez (left) and Emiliano Torres named their invention H2more.

“[The invention] doesn’t just benefit the community, it benefits the whole world,” Torres said. “We were [working on the project] during a recent problem that hit the city of Chicago with lead contaminating the water and since [our project] was based on water conservation, we decided to do something that would help.”

H2more includes a sensor that sits in the sink piping system, the 13-year-old said. While the water travels down the sink, the sensor activates and looks for harmful material in the water. If the water is clean, a hatch opens and it travels to a water preserve to be purified. If the water is contaminated, a different hatch opens and sends it to the sewer.

The creative process began 10 weeks ago. Motorola Mobility employees traveled on Tuesdays and Thursdays to the five Chicago middle schools sponsored by Citizen Schools to teach a weekly apprenticeship, helping the students envision and execute the idea.

Each team submitted a video to a judging panel to explain their projects. The finalists were then selected to compete for the grand prize.

“Eighty percent of the participants come from the schools partnered with Citizen Schools, but children come can come from all over Chicago,” Hauser said. “I am continually inspired by solutions that the kids come up with.”

“My favorite part of the process was to work as a team and come up with a product or idea,” Carter teammate Ajah Farrow said. “We made it this far with the help of my teachers.”

“I think [our app] would impact people because this will make them aware of what can happen to your ears if you listen to music too loud,” the 14-year-old said. “It would help the kids remember to turn the noises down or be more cautious about what they do when it comes to loud noises.”

The grand prize package included a Lenovo tablet computer, cash prizes, household memberships to the Museum of Science and Industry and a 3-D printer for the groups’ school.

Ellis and Farrow said with sponsorship and the right tools, they would create the app themselves.

“I believe we can help a lot of people [with our app],” Ellis said. “And maybe we could make some money off of it too.”