Imagine being handed a plastic baggy that contains two disposable cups, a paper clip, a piece of aluminum foil, and a rubber band and asked to create a futuristic car…that actually moves.

This past week seven teams representing each Bossier Parish middle school were asked to tackle this task along with a variety of other challenges at Junior Cyber Discovery. Junior Cyber Discovery is a professional development program that includes both teachers and their students. While teachers are learning new ways to engage students in project-driven learning environments, students are enhancing their problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, and communication skills. Due to the program’s success, it has doubled in size from last year’s pilot and plans are to continue its expansion in future years.

The Cyber Innovation Center, through its National Integrated Cyber Education Research Center, and Bossier Parish Schools sponsored the program hosted at Parkway High School. Junior Cyber Discovery culminates with a week-long camp where middle school teams compete through a variety of challenges that demonstrate science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) concepts. These challenges also demonstrate how STEM is incorporated in their everyday lives.

Cope Middle School’s Physical Science teacher, Angie Bellotte, shared, “Junior Cyber Discovery is a dynamic program for my students. It teaches students about technology, how to be creative with it, and challenges them to apply this knowledge to real world concepts. It is also inspiring for teachers because it provides us with new ways to motivate our students with hands-on projects in our classrooms.”

Junior Cyber Discovery culminated on Friday, July 13, 2012, with each team’s oral presentation and a head-to-head sumo robot competition. After a challenging week, Elm Grove Middle School emerged as the first place winner. Cope Middle School took second place and Benton Middle School finished third.

“Truly engaging students is critical to academic success,” explained G.B. Cazes, Vice-President of the Cyber Innovation Center. “By successfully engaging students in project-driven curricula, students will not only learn STEM fundamentals but will also empower them to think outside the box.”