For the second year, the New Jersey School Boards Association, along with the co-sponsor, the U.S. Army, conducted the “STEAM Tank Challenge” an invention contest for New Jersey’s public school students.

STEAM Tank, modeled after the popular television show “Shark Tank,” was developed to provide teams of students and educators the opportunity to experience real-world problem solving, to think like entrepreneurs, and to design and create products.

Teams create innovative projects and present their inventions to a judging panel of entrepreneurs, business leaders, STEAM specialists and inventors. The project encourages student achievement in the STEAM education areas – science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics. The cooperative team structure of the projects encourages students to develop the interpersonal skills that are crucial to success in the workplace.

The first year STEAM Tank was introduced, there were 32 submissions, and 17 teams were selected to present their ideas and inventions at Workshop. The contest was so well received in 2016, that in 2017, NJSBA decided to expand it to include three regional competitions, covering the northern, central and southern areas of the state.

In 2017, there were 193 submissions, 90 of which were selected to advance to the regionals. At the regional competitions, 37 teams made it to the finals, which were again held in October at the Atlantic City Convention Center at NJSBA’s Workshop conference. Winners were selected in the elementary, middle and high school categories.

The judges (listed in the box on page 32) volunteered their time, not only to score student presentations, but to offer suggestions for improvement to each and every team that presented.

The Process Student teams were asked to do one of three things: identify a problem or situation that needs resolution; modify an existing product to make it better; or invent something that does not exist yet. Teams brainstorm and create innovative projects, and present their inventions before a judging panel of entrepreneurs, business and education leaders. While the high school students typically built prototypes of their projects, some of the younger students concentrated on perfecting and presenting the concept to the judges.

Collaboration between students – both within same grade level and across grade levels – was encouraged. Similiarly, STEAM Tank encouraged teams to reach out to subject matter experts in their communities to support the teams as a resource and as mentors.

Cash prizes were awarded to the winners. NJSBA thanks Public Service Electric & Gas (PSEG) for contributing the prize money for STEAM Tank 2017.

Below are the winners, and descriptions of their project. Each of the teams was interviewed by Ray Pinney, NJSBA director of member engagement, at Workshop. Links to each team’s video interview, posted on YouTube, are included in the description.

The Winning STEAM Tank Teams:


1. ReCraft
Ocean City Intermediate, Ocean City School District

Minecraft, a popular video game that involves placing blocks and undertaking various adventures, was the basis of the project from Ocean City Intermediate School’s team. Their version of the video game, Recraft, involves building with recycled items. “Minecraft was made to build things,” noted the fifth-grade team’s application. “There is a big twist that makes this game not only fun, but has an effect on our planet Earth. Instead of just having a gallery of free materials to build with or having to collect them, in this game recyclables, like metal, glass, plastic or anything else you can recycle, are the materials.” The students thought up the project at their afterschool club, OC Life 21. “We were brainstorming and we thought this is a good idea. We were about to go recycle paper and we thought, what if we came up with an app about recycling,” noted one student. The students hope to move on to actually create the app they have planned. The team was awarded $2,500.

Team Leader: Maureen Baldini, Ocean City Intermediate School, Ocean City School District

2. Music Sheets
Lafayette Elementary School, Wayne Township Public Schools

Fifth-grade elementary school students from Wayne who are also students of music, came up with a clever idea for useful invention: a tablet screen and app that will turn music sheet pages as you play, using sound recognition technology to determine when to turn a page. One student explained the need for such an invention, “Sometimes you have problems flipping your music once you get to the end of a page.” There is mode that is manual that allows the user to flip the page manually, as well as automatically. Students see a market for such a device for both student and professional musicians. The team won $1,500.

Team Leader: Dana Petrie, Lafayette Elementary School, Wayne Township

3. The InnoTab
West Amwell Elementary, South Hunterdon Regional School District

The West Amwell students, who are in a gifted and talented program together, were assigned a project to think a way to clean your teeth. At first, the students explained in an interview done at Workshop, they tried to come up with variations on toothbrushes. But then they came up with the idea for InnoTab, a “whole new way to clean your teeth.” The InnoTab (Innovation Tablet) is a flavorful tablet that dissolves in the mouth comprised of special microbes found in seaweed that will break up the gunky bacteria-ridden biofilm that is plaque. “Traditional toothpaste is not always effective in removing the plaque, but the enzyme found in bacillus licheniformis attacks plaque and breaks it up, getting rid of it completely,” the team explained in their application. InnoTab contains the right amount of fluoride and is available in mint and other flavors. “Used regularly three times a day, InnoTab can prevent the build-up of plaque,” the team said. West Amwell’s award was $1,000.

Team Leader: Martha Kubik, West Amwell Township Elementary School, South Hunterdon Regional School District


1. Traposquito
P.S. 28 Christa McAuliffe Elementary School, Jersey City Public Schools

The two-student team from Jersey City Public School’s P.S. 28, Christa McAuliffe Elementary School had the idea to build a mosquito trap that uses heat and carbon dioxide from compost to attract mosquitos to a solar-powered mosquito trap. The two students, who are now ninth-grade students in two different high schools, Dr. Ronald E. McNair High School and High Technology High School in Lincroft, began developing the project as seventh grade students at P.S. 28, and worked on it for two years. They started the project, they explained in their interview, because of the zika virus, which is spread by mosquitos. They were awarded $2,500.

Team Leader: Joel Naatus, P.S. 28 Christa McAuliffe, Jersey City Public Schools

2. Filter Frenzy
P.S. 28 Christa McAuliffe Elementary School, Jersey City Public Schools

This team from P.S. 28, Christa McAuliffe Elementary School, which has students from grades pre-K through grade eight, consisted of students who were eighth graders last year. They came up with a bio-filter that filters out toxins and harmful aquablooms in fresh water ecosystems. The bio filters uses daphnia magna, a small planktonic crustacean that is proven to consume cyanobacteria as a food source; the result is an environmentally friendly way to control toxic cyanobacteria in tanks. “We found out about harmful aquablooms and researched more into it and found out that it is mostly caused by cyanobacteria so we decided to eliminate that issue,” said one student. The students have been working on their project for about 18 months. The team was awarded $1,500.

Team Leader: Joel Naatus, P.S. 28 Christa McAuliffe Elementary School, Jersey City Public Schools

3. Flex Ring
Howell Middle School South, Howell Township School District

An invention from a team at Howell Middle School was inspired after one student team member told a story about her father losing his wedding ring in the water when he was kayaking. “We just got this idea and it clicked for us,” noted another student. The “FlexRing” invention is a ring constructed of shapeshifting polymers that can expand or contract when they react to the temperature of human skin. The original form of FlexRing is small, and the ring expands and easily slides onto the user’s finger. If the wearer’s body temperature changes, the ring either expands or contracts slightly to provide a firm, yet comfortable fit. “The person doesn’t have to worry if they have a swollen finger, and they don’t have to worry about it falling off in water,” said one student. In their research stage, the students contacted and received assistance from the American Chemical Society and the Center for Sustainable Polymers. “They gave us feedback that helped make our presentation better and our product better,” said another student. The team was awarded $1,000.

Team Leader: Josh Langenberger, Howell Middle School South, Howell Township School District


1. Ecotrack
Manasquan High School, Manasquan School District

The student team from Manasquan High School proves the adage that necessity is the mother of invention. The school does not have a full 400-meter track available for the track team’s runners for several reasons, including the proximity of the sports fields to protected wetlands, and the need to maintain the configuration of the current playing fields to accommodate other sports teams. One sport’s playing field would have overlapped with a track; so currently the runners practice on a “J-shaped” track rather than a traditional oval.

So this team’s solution was a modular eco-track system, a portable track made from a polyurethane base with a normal track solution on top that has interlocking mechanisms that allow it to be taken apart and moved. The group describes the track as “eco-friendly” since it is constructed from recycled and rebonded polyurethane “It’s ideal for a site that has a high population density, or where they don’t have enough space to put all the facilities in one place,” says one of the students. While the immediate intent is to provide serious runners with a place to both practice and compete, one of the judges for STEAM Tank also suggested to the group that their idea could have other uses, such as for a temporary airfield. The team was awarded $2,500.

Team Leader: Amy Edwards, Manasquan High School, Manasquan School District

2. Securicap
Cumberland Regional High School, Cumberland Regional High School District

SecuriCap is an optical security solution embedded into an ordinary baseball cap that, when activated, will transmit an emergency message and the user’s GPS coordinates to predetermined contacts while recording high-definition video evidence of an incident. “It can be used for kids who might be bullied, but besides safety reasons, it can also be used for hands-free recording of moments and memories,” noted one student, who explained that the emergency contact feature could be deactivated. The students reported that the STEAM Tank judges spoke to them about the importance of obtaining a patent for their product as soon as possible. The team of high school seniors, consisting of Brianna Hicks, Kelsey Pastirko, Savannah Soone, and Reilly Weber won a $1,500 prize for their invention. “

Team Leader: Ed Sayre, Cumberland Regional High School, Cumberland Regional High School District

Third Place: Two Winners Tied

3. Talking Walking Stick
Cumberland Regional High School, Cumberland Regional High School District

The Talking Walking Stick is an improvement to current walking sticks for the visually impaired, especially in unknown areas. This version has a speaker that audibly identifies and describes a location and features to the visually-impaired user; the stick uses RFID technology to interact with microchips that are placed in a door frame, door knob, or other location. The students envision a time when builders include such microchips for the visually impaired as routinely as they now include ramps and other accommodations for the disabled. The inspiration for this innovation? A teacher told the students about seeing a visually-impaired person in an airport nearly walk into the wrong restroom. The CRHS team of class of 2017 graduate Natalie Smith and seniors Jo’Elle Evans and Abigail Riggins received a $500 prize for the Talking Walking Stick. The original team also included 2017 graduates Leslie Baez, Connor Bondi, and Kate Miller.

Team Leader: Ed Sayre, Cumberland Regional High School, Cumberland Regional School District

3. Exo–Controller
Manasquan High School, Manasquan School District

The Exo-Controller from a team of students at Manasquan High School solves an annoying problem for videogame enthusiasts: having to replace or recharge dying videogame controller batteries. “This is important to us,” noted the students in their submission, “because we, as gamers, hate it when batteries die midway through a gaming session!”

The students know that thermoelectric materials can generate power directly from the heat from a person’s hands by converting temperature differences into electric voltage. According to the students, a person can generate eight volts of electricity this way. A thermoelectric-powered game controller also has the advantage of being more eco-friendly than traditional battery-operated controllers. The students foresee other applications of the technology, for instance, for television remote controllers. One of the STEAM Tank judges, an attorney, has talked to the group about getting a patent on their invention. The students were awarded $500.

Team Leader: Amy Edwards, Manasquan High School, Manasquan School District

Janet Bamford is manager of communications and publications at NJSBA.