Guest Blog: Alaskan BrainPOPpers Pop to the Top

Congratulations to head teacher, Colter Barnes, and his Kokhanok middle school class for their amazing accomplishment as top 5 finalists in the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Contest.  Colter shares their journey from a BrainPOP social studies lesson all the way to the Big Apple!

One day, in the remote fly-in only “bush” village of Kokhanok, Alaska, while my middle school class (made up of 6 diverse Alaska Native students of Yupik Eskimo, Athapascan Indian, and Aleut descent) were logging in to BrainPOP to work on social studies, they noticed a news feature and exclaimed, “Samsung is giving away $1,000,000 to schools!”  Instantly, their focus had been diverted and they wanted to explore this exciting opportunity.  After further research they learned it was an educational contest that would award students who could best demonstrate an answer to the question, “How can math and science help the environment in your community?”

Being from a village of 160 people, where roughly 80% of its inhabitants don’t have internet access, my students were both eager and nervous.  Do we have what it takes to compete with kids from California, Texas, and New York City?  How cool would it be if we won and received all this stuff which might have otherwise taken 5 or 10 years to reach our village!  One thought resonated throughout the room, “Nobody lives closer to their environment than us.”  And with that, they decided to give it a shot; win or lose.

The contest consisted of 3 phases.  The first phase required my class to answer 3 questions, using 100 words or less for each.  We made it through to the next phase! The second phase consisted of creating a video featuring how math and science can improve your local environment.  Samsung awarded each of the top 50 schools with a technology package consisting of a laptop, digital video camera, and video editing software to create the phase 2 video.   Armed with the latest technology from Samsung and research tools, including BrainPOP, my students created and submitted a class video. We later learned that our video was selected as 1 of the 10 finalists in the contest.  The top 10 video finalists of phase 2 then moved on to phase 3; online voting by the public and voting by a designated panel (weighted 40% and 60% respectively).  All finalist videos were showcased online and the voting process began.

On March 2nd we were thrilled to learn that our video was voted into the top 5 winners circle!   This guarantees us $80,000 in merchandise for our school, a trip to New York City where the winner will be announced, and a chance to win over $155,000 in technological products.  I can’t imagine how cool it would be to watch these kids’ minds and eyes expand while in New York City.  Most of them have never left the state!

We are keeping our fingers crossed for Colter Barnes and his Kokhanok middle school class! Show your support by leaving a comment below. Visit BrainPOP Educators to learn more about contest opportunities and other BrainPOP news items.

Colter Barnes
Middle School Generalist and Head Teacher
Kokhanok School (K-12)