With the goal of finding a unique way to test her Advanced Placement environmental science students, Herndon High School teacher Erin Sikes-Thurston created a contest of ideas as a final exam .
“It’s not a test,” Sikes-Thurston said. “It’s an alternative assessment. For some of the kids, it’s the best thing they did all year.”
Based on ABC’s business competition show, “Shark Tank,” Sikes-Thurston challenged students to come up with or research an existing environmentally-friendly innovation, craft a marketing strategy, and research the idea’s pros and cons. These ideas were pitched on Tuesday to a panel of judges from Booz Allen Hamilton, a strategy and technology consulting firm with offices in Herndon.
“They had to come up with a product, a product that would sell, that was good for the environment,” Sikes-Thurston said. “The idea is that there is science behind the product. But it also had to improve the environment in five ways … One of the kids, he developed an air car.”
Students pitched their ideas to about 20 Booz Allen Hamilton employees, who were divided into five-person judging panels. Booz Allen employees then voted on the best idea, creating a contest winner.
Students won gift cards of as much as $15 each from iTunes or restaruants, which were donated by local businesses, Sikes-Thurston said.
Students were judged on their research, pitch and development of the idea. They also answered questions on their product, target market, goals, costs and drawbacks. Students were allowed to work in groups as large as three for the contest.
Rawan Nour’s environmental idea was a curtain aimed at reducing the time someone spends in the shower.
“We call it the spiky curtain,” said Nour, 18, a senior. “The longer you stay in the shower, the more the spikes inflate. The spikes — which look like pointy, coned pool floaties attached to a curtain — are harmless but cause the person showering to slowly move closer to the opposing wall in annoyance.”
Fellow seniors Kayla Kent, 18, and Fahduma Majid, 17, pitched a type of cement that absorbs pollution.
“We are trying to sell photocatalytic cement,” Kent said. “We realize it’s hard to prevent people from driving their cars, so we found a product that would help.”
Majid added, “It helps prevent the heavy buildup of smog by reducing pollution through exhaust.”
Although their product promised a 50 percent reduction in emissions in urban areas, the cement also was estimated to be about 30 or 40 percent more expensive than regular cement used on roadways, the students told Booz Allen judges.
The team answered a dozen or so questions about their product, including its feasibility in a profit-driven market place. Majid and Kent said they were surprised at some of the questions, which were at times difficult to answer.
“Most of the finals we’ve taken are more paper tests,” Kent said. “This is better because it’s more interactive. It basically allows us to use what we’ve learned all year.”
Majid added, “It’s an added stress, though.”
Seniors Julia Lloyd, 17; Anastasia Pechler, 17; and Amanda Pascarelli, 18, chose a simpler product they said is seen in every household: water bottles.
“These are water bottles that use less plastic,” said Lloyd, while holding a prototype that resembled a plastic bag with a nozzle. “We call them ‘Power Bottles.’”
Pechler said, “I think our product is the best because it’s simple and more people use it. It’s cheap.”
Lloyd added, “It lasts a long time and it’s dishwasher safe.”
Booz Allen Lead Associate Katie Jones said her firm has been involved in science fairs at Herndon High School, which was a connection that led them to participate in Sikes-Thurston’s final exam.
“Booz Allen has a sustainability office. We do a lot of things to help reduce our footprint,” she said.
Speaking to the final exam, Jones said she was impressed by what the students were able to learn from the project, beyond what they would normally receive as in-classroom instruction, for example answering questions professionally and pitching ideas to a client.
“I think it’s a preparation for employment, but also for college because you don’t know what a college professor is going to throw at you and they won’t know you as well as [your high school teacher] does,” Jones said.
Pascarelli said, “It’s more real life than other finals. But it was definitely more work.”