St. Joe third-graders devise ice platform for polar bears

  • Written by Mary Louise Van Dyke
  • Published in Local
Patrick Fennessy, principal of St. Joseph School in Seattle, presents certificates to third-graders Rhys Sukapanpotharam, left, Henry Laun and Aura Sukapanpotharam for their project that won honorable mention in the ExploraVision competition. Photo: Courtesy Laura Laun Patrick Fennessy, principal of St. Joseph School in Seattle, presents certificates to third-graders Rhys Sukapanpotharam, left, Henry Laun and Aura Sukapanpotharam for their project that won honorable mention in the ExploraVision competition. Photo: Courtesy Laura Laun

SEATTLE A trio of third-graders at St. Joseph School in Capitol Hill has won an honorable mention in a national science and technology competition. 

At first, Henry Laun and twins Aura and Rhys Sukapanpotharam struggled to find a project they could agree on for the ExploraVision competition. They finally settled on a model of an ice platform to help polar bears, whose natural habit in the Artic is shrinking.

“I’m happy it won an award,” said Rhys Sukapanpotharam, adding that the design phase was his favorite part of the process.

The project ties in with the values the students learn at their Seattle school, including the importance of being contributing members of the global community, according to their teacher, Cheryl Mead. In science class, “we talk a lot about the planet and how we are called to take care of it,” she added.

ExploraVision, open to students in grades K–12, is focused on the STEM subjects — science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Working in groups of two to four, students are guided by a teacher or adult mentor as they research and develop their projects to solve real problems by imagining future technology. Only one other school in Washington state received an award in the K-3 division.

ice platform modelA trio of students at St. Joseph School in Seattle won an honorable mention for their design of a sea ice platform and retreat for polar bears threatened by loss of habit in the Arctic. Photo: Courtesy Laura Laun

The ice platform was a merging of ideas. Henry suggested 3-D printing of homes for people sleeping on the street. Aura, an animal lover, favored technology to help an endangered species. The result was a floating home for polar bears, which can drown if they can’t find any ice to rest on, Aura noted. 

The students worked on the project for three months, meeting after school with their mentor, Laura Laun, who is Henry’s mother. They used computer-aided design and a 3-D printer to create a small model of an ice platform. The challenge, Henry said, was making sure the platform would be sturdy enough to support the weight of the polar bears. The students’ design features holes in the platform for catching seals, a snow den for refuge, and a solar-energy cooling system to create the sea ice.

“It’s wonderful to see they are using their Christian values, along with their critical thinking skills, taught at school,” Laura Laun said.