SMSD Students Showcase Lunar Modules at PLTW Senior Showcase

SMSD Students Showcase Lunar Modules at PLTW Senior Showcase
Shawnee Mission School District

Shawnee Mission School District (SMSD) seniors put their science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) skills on display at the KC STEM Alliance PLTW Senior Showcase. This annual event celebrates the achievements of students participating in Project Lead The Way (PLTW), a rigorous STEM curriculum offered in schools across the nation.

The KC STEM Alliance PLTW Senior Showcase serves as a platform for students to showcase their capstone projects, highlighting their problem-solving skills, creativity, and technical expertise. This year, two groups of SMSD students participated in the event as part of the Engineering Signature Program Design and Development class. 



“Our students this year have been working with a NASA Hunch Project,” explained Dr. Ryan Flurry, Principal of the SMSD Career and Education Campuses.  “So we actually have had students connecting with engineers at NASA to help build lunar surface modules for various aspects of future space exploration.”

Miles Cohen, Alayna Beck, Samuel Wilson, and Madeline Ampleman worked as a team to develop robotic arms for a device that can clean dust from various surfaces in a zero gravity space station. 

“We made a mobility arm, a duster arm, and then a suction cup array for a duster robot,” explained Ampleman. “Think of it like a Roomba, but like in space.”

The “Kwadropus Robot,” finished in the Top Ten at the the PLTW Showcase and was a finalist in the national NASA Hunch competition. 

Ella von Mosch, Miles Roberts, and Ezra Lifferth, another SMSD Engineering Design and Development group, presented their Lunar Bamboo Greenhouse (another NASA Hunch project) at the PLTW Showcase. 

“With our project, we started with a bunch of research about bamboo, how to grow it, how to design the natural module that will, have enough space to be able to work around but not too much,” explained von Mosch. “Miles actually did a lot of the research first and I focused mainly on sketches. And then Ezra did all the CAD modeling.”

This Greenhouse group even went so far as to create simulated lunar soil by decomposing granite. 

“And then we grew plants there by testing different fertilizers to see how they affected it,” explained Cohen. “So, actually, interestingly enough, none of them grew, mostly due to the soil's poor water retention, it's mostly just rock. [...] So, for further testing, you probably have to find a way for the soil to retain the water better. But in theory, it should work.” 

The teams worked on these projects for more than 6 months consulting with NASA engineers and other professionals throughout the process, an experience their teacher, Renee Chambers, says might be one of the most valuable lessons from the project. 

“They get to work with professionals to see what kind of line of work that they do while integrating and building on their own projects.”

The professional collaboration, ideation, and problem-solving learned through the PLTW program and final showcase, provided these SMSD students with a solid foundation for all not just future careers in STEM fields, but also becoming active contributors to the community. 

“I think that this class, the engineering design class, helps me get so many more skills that I might not get in maybe a more standard engineering class,” said Cohen. “There's a lot of teamwork and project management skills that I could definitely use as a career in engineering. And I think this class is preparing me very well for college and then hopefully a career in engineering in the future.”