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Robotics Competition Update and Awards!


It’s mid-December and time for a SLI robotics competition update! So far this year, students have participated in many tournaments throughout the Bay Area and a number of teams have been honored with awards and advancements.

SLI middle school teams competed in FIRST Lego League in November, where they were judged in two areas, a robotics game and a research project, both focused on this year’s theme (human water cycle). Using EV3 LEGO kits, teams designed and built robots to navigate and complete tasks on a 4’x8’ game board. At the various tournaments, one SLI team received the judges award; another received the Core Values award; and yet another received the Champions award; and five SLI teams are advancing to regionals.

At the high school level, students have been competing in FIRST Tech Challenge, where the playing field is more fluid and can change throughout the course of a game. Using FTC Competition Tetrix Kits, the teams have built robots that are smarter, more dexterous, and flexible than their middle school counterparts. Each SLI team has competed in two tournaments so far. One team received the Design award; another placed third in Design; while one team received both the Motivate award and 3rd place for the Connect award( the outreach award). All SLI FTC teams will be competing in a third round of tournaments in January and February, after making adjustments to their strategies and robots.

As SLI teams continue to compete in tournaments, updates about results and awards will be posted here. Congratulations to all the winners so far!

SLI Attends the CA STEAM Symposium


The California STEAM Symposium provides attendees with the opportunity to celebrate, learn, support and connect with those who are interested and invested in STEAM education. It boasts approximately three thousand attendees, and this year it took place at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. Due to it’s easy accessibility to the 49ers STEM Leadership Institute, SLI administrators, faculty, and a handful of students were able to attend.

Each area of the conference was engaging and informative, but SLI is particularly proud for the four SLI student groups that displayed and demonstrated their projects in the Student Showcase area. Not only did they seize this opportunity to work on their presentation and communication skills, but they grew their understanding of their projects by answering and learning from attendees. Below are the descriptions of the four SLI projects that were showcased.

The iCane Traffic System (8th grade): The intelligent white cane (iCane) can electronically assist the visually impaired community in crossing intersections safely. This project has been in development for two years and the current prototype has accomplished the following: when the individual comes within two feet from a crossing, the traffic signal beeps; the iCane can control the traffic light using an infrared remote; and the iCane vibrates on the crosswalk within 3 centimeters of walkway guides.

Hydroloon (8th grade): This project aims to solve to the difficulty of clean water access for third world countries or areas in crisis. Hydroloon (inspired by Google’s “Project Loon,” which brings internet access to third world countries) is a weather balloon that flies into clouds using electric propulsion and weather systems and then collects cloud moisture using fog mesh. The balloon then carries this collected water to “Hydroloon Stations” where trucks can transport it to nearby destinations.

FTC 13219 – X-Cavators Robot (9th grade): This team exhibited its FIRST Tech Challenge competition-level robot and some of the behind-the-scenes programming and construction. They also shared an overview of this year’s FTC theme (FIRST Relic Recovery) and some of the strategies used and experiences gained as part of this year’s tournament season.

Oil Cleaner (7th grade): This team is working to create a device that treats oil spills. Prior to the symposium, they’d been deep in research about current techniques for separating oil from water and then working to create a prototype device that could use these techniques. At the event, they tested the product’s effectiveness at oil and water separation and ran plant tests on the different water conditions to observe the effect that water quality has on plant life.

Students Participate in Hour of Code


Yesterday SLI 7th & 8th grade students participated in “Hour of Code,” a grassroots movement where participants around the world, at all programming levels, code for one hour on a designated day. “The Hour of Code started as a one-hour introduction to computer science, designed to demystify ‘code’, to show that anybody can learn the basics, and to broaden participation in the field of computer science. It has since become a worldwide effort to celebrate computer science, starting with 1-hour coding activities but expanding to all sorts of community efforts. […] The Hour of Code takes place each year during Computer Science Education Week.” (

This year SLI students joined the Hour of Code community by creating and animating their own Google logo using a Scratch platform hosted by Google. Students enjoyed getting creative designing and building graphics with animation and interactive properties.

Scratch is an invaluable teaching tool developed by Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab, and it is provided free of charge. “With Scratch, you can program your own interactive stories, games, and animations — and share your creations with others in the online community. Scratch helps young people learn to think creatively, reason systematically, and work collaboratively — essential skills for life in the 21st century.” (

Below are some images of SLI students logos. You can click on them to view their animations.

SLI Students Visit the 49ers STEAM Program & Museum


Last week, SLI’s 7th grade cohort visited the 49ers Museum and STEAM Education Program at Levi’s Stadium. The museum explores the history of the 49ers Football Team and the engineering and design of football gear throughout the last century. The STEAM Education Program, a 49ers Foundation project, hosts students from all over the Bay Area, entirely free of cost, with the goal of introducing them to the world of STEAM through the lens of sports. The program’s work has received recognition all over the world; and is a parallel program to SLI, which is also primarily sponsored by the 49ers Foundation. Every year, the museum and STEAM Education Program host SLI’s 7th graders. This year, SLI students toured the Levi’s Stadium, a state-of-the-art venue with several engineering and technology enhancements. They explored the museum and learned about the evolution of technology in entertainment and sports. Student also got a bit of exercise out on the field, playing a math-based game involving running and football. Overall, it was a fun outing, where students learned about the 49ers Foundation’s other programs and experienced the real-world intersection of STEM, sports, and entertainment.

SLI Student Application Now Open!


11/20/16: Application Opens

11/29/17 – 12/2/17: Information Sessions and Open House

12/15/17: Application Closes at 5pm

1/12/18 – 1/14/18: Semi-finalists invited to interview

1/16/18 – 1/19/18: Semi-finalist interviews

1/29/18 – 2/2/18: Accepted students notified

2/2/18 – 2/7/18: Accepted students commit to program

SLI Students Create Their Own Magazine


This autumn, a group of SLI middle school students took the initiative to start their own student-run magazine, called STEMATIX. The first issue was recently released, featuring articles on a wide range of topics. It includes an interview with STEM industry professionals, a couple creative writing pieces and comic strips with STEM themes, and columns on STEM jobs, toys, and gadgets.

As the editor’s note says, “This is a 100% student run magazine, and is meant to promote STEM and the SLI program at Cabrillo Middle School.” No teacher or administrator was involved; the magazine is a student project from start to finish, including the graphic design, the writing, and the research. As a program, SLI strongly encourages students to take initiative and pursue their passions, challenging themselves to try something new. STEMATIX team, editor and writers all, congratulations on your first issue!

See below for some excerpts from the magazine.

Students Dive Into Robotics Competitions!


It’s autumn and SLI students are deep in preparation for the FIRST LEGO League (FLL) and First Tech Challenge (FTC) competitions. For FLL, middle school teams compete in two areas: a robotics game and a research project, both centered around a specific theme. Last year’s theme featured endangered species and wildlife preservation; this year’s theme is “Hydro Dynamics,” specifically focusing on the human water cycle (how humans “find, transport, use, and dispose of water”). Using EV3 LEGO kits, teams design and build robots that navigate and complete tasks on a 4’x8’ game board; for each task completed, a certain number of points is rewarded. Teams are also evaluated on their research and proposed solution to a specific problem related to the year’s theme.

Meanwhile, SLI high school students are building robots using a FTC Competition Tetrix Kits.

Like FLL, FTC rewards points to teams for each mission completed by the robot; however, FTC’s challenges are fluid and change throughout the course of a game, thus requiring more dexterity, flexibility, and smarter robots. FTC’s theme this year is “Relic Recovery.”

Now in its fourth year of FLL and second year for FTC, SLI is excited to watch students grow in their robotics skills and their ability to work as a team as they learn, research, and problem solve together.

Students Volunteer at 49ers Foundation's Tuesday Night Football

September 2017

On Tuesday night, six 8th graders represented the 49ers STEM Leadership Institute (SLI) at the first annual Tuesday Night Football fundraiser for the 49ers Foundation, a co-founder and primary funder of SLI. Students sold raffle tickets, manned a SLI activity booth, and got to eat dinner in the Levi’s Stadium end zone with Silicon Valley executives and 49ers staff and players. They also got to interview 49ers football players on stage before the attendees. Events like this are wonderful opportunities for students to practice their presentation and communication skills and to meet successful and influential people from different backgrounds. The students and their chaperons had a great night supporting The 49ers Foundation.

For more information about the event, visit the 49ers Foundation website.

Summer Session 2017: Building Computers, Touring Backstage at NASA, and Building with Ten Thousand LEGO parts!


In the last three weeks, students participated in exciting, new activities in addition to re-familiarizing themselves with the the lab equipment, using the design thinking cycle, and preparing for the year ahead.

With the help of NASA engineer William Van Dalsem (Deputy Director, Aeronautics Directorate), tenth graders had the opportunity to visit NASA’s Ames Research Center; they got rare behind-the-scenes tours of their fluid mechanics lab, unitary wind tunnel, the “Space Shop” (NASA’s maker space), and the primary machine shop.

While the tenth graders got to tour NASA, eighth graders built their own computers and customized games on Minecraft with the help of Piper kits. CEO Mark Pavlyukovskyy of Piper and other upper management also spoke with students about running a startup. SLI and Piper are exploring future opportunities for students to work as Junior Developers at Piper.

For all students, Play Well worked with teams composed of students from each grade level on an open-ended team-building project; the company brought in tens of thousands of LEGO parts and had students build something that represented their time in SLI Summer Session. In addition to the large bins of various pieces, tables were set out with specific mechanisms, like conveyor belts, motors, and pulleys, that students were required to incorporate into their final product. Students enjoyed getting to know each other and creating a very diverse array of entertaining designs.

Additionally, with the goal of learning the significance of teamwork and planning, all grade levels worked on a significant design-thinking team project, directly learning the significance of the phrase “fail early, fail often.”

The summer is an exciting time for students to begin building on their knowledge from the year before and to tackle new challenges. Here’s to the year ahead and the experiences, learning, and growth it will bring!

NASA at Santa Clara High School


A couple weeks ago, several scientists from NASA’s Ames Research Center visited Santa Clara High School to speak to advanced math and science students, including SLI 9th graders. Over three hundred students from AP biology, physics, statistics, both levels of calculus, and computer science were invited to the conference. The day started with a introductory speech, given by William Van Dalsem (Chief of Intelligent Systems within Exploration Technology), where he detailed the history and mission of NASA and the Ames Research Center. Students then rotated through three of eight different workshops given by NASA speakers. These speaker topics ranged from supersonic travel and flying cars to Mars exploration and satellite engineering. Overall, the day was an amazing opportunity for students to learn real world applications of STEM and to imagine beyond the current limits of exploration and technology.

Thank you to all the speakers: William Van Dalsem (Chief of Intelligent Systems within Exploration Technology), Heather Arneson (Research Aerospace Engineer), Chad Frost (Autonomous Systems and Robotics), Sandy Lozito (Chief of the Aviation Systems Division), Nettie Halcomb Roozeboom (Aerospace Engineer in the Wind Tunnel Division), Donald Durston (High Speed Project Engineer), Jeffrey Homola (Human Systems Integration Research Engineer), and Donald Ellerb (Research Scientist). And a big thank you to Ms Shorrock (SLI Program & Technology Manager at SCHS) who helped to facilitate the event.

Students Participate in the Green Ninja Film Festival


Four teams comprised of 24 SLI 7th graders were finalists in this years Green Ninja Film Festival, and we are excited to announce that one  team won the Creative Story Award and one team won the People’s Choice Award. Congratulations!

“This year was the fourth Annual Green Ninja Film Festival! More than one hundred films were submitted from eight U.S. middle schools […] These films were developed as part of the Green Ninja Film Academy (GENIE) program. Eight middle schools and over six-hundred students participated in this five-week intervention designed to encourage scientific storytelling. […] A digital science portfolio accompanied the film to explain the scientific concepts and to reflect on the potential impact of the film’s climate solution.” (Green Ninja website)

For more information, and to view the films, visit the Green Ninja website.

SLI 7th Graders Help Restore the Wetlands


SLI’s 7th graders are currently studying ecosystems, human impact on the environment, and geology; and they recently got the exciting opportunity to get their feet wet (and their hands dirty) restoring Bay Area wetlands. Under the expert guidance of Save The Bay (a Bay Area organization dedicated to restoring Bay Area ecosystems), SLI students spent the afternoon learning about the wetlands and the threat of invasive species. They learned to identify invasive plants and then removed 18 bags worth of them (including fennel, thistle, wild lettuce, and italian radish). During the trip, students saw geese and their goslings roaming the wetlands. It was a beautiful afternoon spent near Bixby Park in Palo Alto, learning first-hand about bay area plants and animals.

As a followup to the wetlands trip, a speaker from the Santa Clara Water District spoke to the SLI 7th grade science classes this week. She taught an exciting interactive lesson about plastic pollution, its dangerous impact on animals, and ways to maintain a clean watershed.

For more information about Save The Bay and their volunteering and plant restoration opportunities, visit their “Get Involved” page.

For more information about the Santa Clara Water District, visit their webpage here.

Students Present Projects at MakerFaire 2017


It’s May, which means it’s time for MakerFaire! A celebration of the Maker Movement, the faire is a unique festival that blends STEM fields, art, creativity, and the design process. This year, SLI students from all three grade levels presented projects that they specifically developed for Maker Faire. Each grade level was given a theme to inspire their projects:

For 7th grade, the theme was “Growth Mindset In, Stress Out;” the 8th graders were given given the theme “Exploration;” and the 9th grade theme was “Philanthropic Fabrication,” inspiring community-oriented, altruistic projects from students.

Students presented all three days of the faire, demonstrating their devices and sharing their creations with the public.

One team used a microscope to look at the formation of colorful ice crystals (created with dry ice, water, and food coloring) in a project that used science to create beautiful, colorful displays.

Another group designed a beautiful painter’s palette and cup; and while the project might seem simple at first glance, they use the ShopBot and the 3D printer (and all the corresponding software) to design, prototype, and build it. The result was a high quality, remarkable wooden palette and cup that was the envy of every artist.

The most interactive project was a meditation cube. The team created a five foot by five foot “room” with fabric walls and a carpet floor. Participants were invited in and using an app that the students designed, they were lead through different meditation exercises, with the options of music and light therapy.

Overall, 26 SLI teams presented over the course of the weekend. It was a fantastic experience for all of them, giving them the opportunity to stretch their presentation and people skills in addition to their imaginations and their comfort with design-thinking.

Levi’s Stadium Field Trip


A couple weeks ago, SLI’s 7th grade cohort got the chance to visit Levi’s Stadium, where they saw and experienced STEM in the real world. The day included a tour of the stadium (which has incorporated several STEM related features into its design) and the 49ers Museum (which features football memorabilia and educational pieces about the science of football); in addition to the tours, students participated in hand’s-on activities, including a motion lab and a gridiron engineering lesson.

The motion lab broke down the physics behind standing jumps and sprints. And student teams played a math game that required critical-thinking and probability (in addition to good ball-throwing skills). The gridiron engineering lab focused on the design-thinking process; students created new designs for the metal face-masks on football helmets (gridirons), then discussed and received feedback on those designs. The exercise served as helpful practice in the design thinking cycle.

Overall, it was a fun trip that gave students tangible examples of STEM and broadened their understanding of concepts that they learn every week in SLI.

Tech Challenge 2017


This last weekend SLI students from each grade competed in the Tech Challenge at The San Jose Tech Museum.

Students were given the following goal: to construct a device to help explorers cross two ravines in an ice field. According to the 2017 official rules, “Explorers must cross each ravine, bringing their entire device across for future use. Self-powered aerial solutions such as planes, drones, lighter-than-air vehicles or helicopters are prohibited.”

At the competition, it was fascinating to see how all the teams tackled the challenge; some teams used remote cars or robots; other decided to use only simple machines to cross the ravines. Across all competing grades and teams, devices struggled to effectively cross the ravines; four devices from SLI teams successfully completed the challenge! And SLI teams received the following awards: Top Tech Challenge Story, 2nd Place in the Video Contest, Outstanding Device Performance, and Outstanding Engineering Design Process. Well done, everyone!

SLI Students Volunteer at Community STEM Events


This past week SLI students volunteered at two community events in Santa Clara. The first event, STEM Central, took place on Saturday at Central Park Library. Fifteen SLI students hosted booths about FIRST Tech Challenge and other STEM activities.

According to the event website, “STEM Central is an all-day, family-friendly event celebrating science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in the heart of Silicon Valley. Visitors will come face to face with every manner of technology, from printing presses and glassblowing to virtual reality, robots, and drones. […] Younger visitors will get hands-on at interactive Innovation Stations throughout the library, where children and adults can work together to build circuits, learn to write code, and launch their very own rocket.” (Visit the City of Santa Clara website for more info)

On Tuesday, multiple students volunteered at another event, the STEAM Exposition at Central Park Elementary School. The event included different STEAM-related activities and booths that showcase STEAM projects and design thinking. SLI students hosted multiple booths, working to inspire a younger group of STEM students.

SLI Team Attends the California State Science Fair


This last weekend a team of SLI students attended the California State Science Fair. After receiving the 2nd place award in Physical Science and Engineering at Synopsys Science Fair, they were invited to attend this selective fair in Southern California.

The team enjoyed presenting it’s project at this statewide competition. They were able to meet students from many backgrounds and to be inspired by their projects. One of the parent chaperons thought the fair was a great experience for them, saying “They had 8 main award judges to their display and all of them loved their idea and gave positive feedback….it was an awesome experience to see many projects displays… Without STEM, [the students] wouldn’t have been exposed to [so] many competitions.”

Congratulations to the students for participating and thank you to the parents for chaperoning!

Steve Wozniak Invites SLI Students to Participate in Science Fair


Steve Wozniak (inventor, engineer, entrepreneur, and co-founder of Apple) hosts an annual Science Fair as a part of Silicon Valley Comic Con (SVCC); this year, Wozniak attended Synopsys Science Fair and invited certain projects to participate, including some SLI students’ projects. Wozniak met with each student team and discussed their projects, giving them a unique opportunity to speak with an incredibly successful Silicon Valley entrepreneur.

The SVCC website gives a small description of the event, saying “In cooperation with the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s S.T.E.A.M. Team, SVCC seeks to inspire the imaginations of all attendees, including encouraging S.T.E.A.M. (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) students. Bay Area kids are doing great work, and we’re happy to shine a light on their ingenuity. In honor of Earth Day, Saturday’s Science Fair will be themed SAVE THE PLANET and highlight earth science projects. Superheroes encouraged to visit and support! Sunday’s Science Fair will be themed FUTURE TECH and highlight robotics and space projects. All participants are invited to come in costume!” (See more at the Silicon Valley Comic Con website)

Congrats to all the SLI students invited to participate!

Adam Savage, Brandi Chastain, and Jesse Sapolu visit!


Adam Savage, former co-host of the hit show MythBusters, visited FabLab Santa Clara High School on Wednesday, April 19, to work with SLI 9th graders. Savage’s visit was a part of “a national tour of 6 Maker Cities in the USA”, sponsored by Chevron and Fab Foundation.

According to the Fab Foundation, “the tour is designed to visit and document innovation in education, entrepreneurship, and workforce development. Sponsorship is provided by Chevron, as part of the energy company’s continuing commitment to STEM education. Started in response to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy “Maker Initiative,” Mr. Savage aims to engage and excite the communities he visits and then document the tour on video for the entire country to share in the experience via multiple media channels, including” (Visit the Fab Foundation website for the full article)

Students were given the challenge to design and prototype different football tees for kicking, incorporating the lab’s ShopBot, laser cutter, and 3D printer. Also in attendance were Brandi Chastain (two-time World Cup champion, two-time Olympic gold medalist) and Jesse Sapolu (49ers legend with four Super Bowl championship rings). Chastain and Sapolu provided advice and expertise regarding the physics of kicking and football.

It was an exciting morning of learning and design thinking; we are excited to help promote STEM education throughout the country through this video series. Check back in a month to see the video!

SLI’s 7th Graders Get an Inside Look at Google


SLI’s 7th grade class visited Google campus on Wednesday, where they got an exclusive peek into the life, culture, and undertakings of Google and Alphabet (Google’s holding company). Students began the visit with an indulgent lunch at the Google dining hall and then a tour around main Mountain View campus. After walking off lunch, students attended five talks from current Google employees. The speakers covered many topics, including project Loon, autonomous cars, marketing and advertising, and “three things I wish I’d known as a 7th grader.”

It was an exciting look into the workings and mindset of a top-tier technology company and its employees. Not only did they gain valuable insight into how a company like Google functions, but also into the various paths that lead each speaker to their current job at Google. Students left the Mountain View campus feeling inspired and motivated, with new perspective on their own projects with SLI.

A huge thank you to our parent volunteers who organized an amazing event.

Online Transfer Application Open for Current 9th Graders!


Key Dates:

4/19/17: Application opens

5/3/17: Application closes

5/4/17 – 5/7/17: Semi-finalists invited to interview

5/8/17 – 5/12/17: Semi-finalist interviews

5/13/17 – 5/19/17: Accepted students notified and commit to program following commitment meeting

For more information, Visit the application page for more information and links to the online form.

Synopsys Science Fair Awards!


After the awards ceremony on Sunday, we are thrilled to announce the specific awards and honors that SLI students received. Three SLI projects (one from each grade level) placed 1st in the Physical Science & Engineering Category and the two middle school projects received nominations to compete in Broadcom MASTERS (an elite middle school science competition). Two more SLI projects placed 2nd in the same Physical Science & Engineering Category. And six projects received honorable mention. The Association for Computing Machinery gave a 2nd place student award and an honorable mention student award to two SLI projects. An 8th grade project received a certificate of achievement from the Society of Women Engineers. And one 9th grade project, in addition to winning an honorable mention, received the Bruce Kawanami Engineering Award and a BBC Microbit Development Kit from TechLab Education. Overall, 18 awards and honors were given to 14 SLI projects. Amazing work, award winners!

Synopsys is a prestigious local science fair that requires rigorous project-based research from its participants. Its submission guidelines demand a clearly defined question or problem; accurate testing and analysis; quantifiable, measurable results; and a clear definition of criteria for success or outcome. This year, 41 SLI sciences projects were accepted to the fair; and a total of 69 students worked on these projects and presented them in March to approximately 500 category and special award judges, including over 60 industry professionals.

This year 14 SLI projects (22 students) were selected to receive awards. These projects include a heat-sensing rescue robot, an active cuff for the treatment of edema in the lower extremities, and several projects that aim to help the blind with navigating, sensing what is ahead of them, or cleaning up after their service dogs.

It has been another year of fantastic projects and presentations. Congratulations to all! And best of luck to the projects that are continuing on to Broadcom MASTERS!

Online Transfer Application Now Open!


Key Dates:

3/16/17: Application opens

4/7/17: Application closes

4/19/17 – 4/21/17: Semi-finalists invited to interview

4/24/17 – 4/28/17: Semi-finalist interviews

5/8/17 – 5/12/17: Accepted students notified and commit to program following commitment meeting

For more information, Visit the application page for more information and links to the online form.

Six SLI Teams Receive Honorable Mention for their ExploraVision Projects


We are thrilled to announce that six SLI teams received Honorable Mention for their ExploraVision research projects. ExploraVision is a nationwide competition centered around the history and future of technology. Competing teams select a specific current technology and research its origin, its modern day purpose, and exactly how it works. “The students must then project into the future what that technology could be like 20 years from now and determine what scientific breakthroughs need to occur to make it a reality” ( including the particular benefits and consequences of the new technology.

As a part of the project, teams designed websites to showcase their research. Please find below the website designs for the SLI projects that received honorable mentions. Due to student privacy concerns, some websites were not able to be published online; below are images of the websites for grades 7 and 8, and active links for grade 9.

A.P.O. Artificial Programmable Organs (7th Grade)
Heart Muscle Regeneration (7th Grade)
Puri Plug (8th Grade)
Enhanced Touch (8th Grade)
Stella Via 1 (8th Grade)
Muscle Memory (9th Grade)

Recruitment for Class of 2023 Wraps Up


After three months dedicated to the recruitment process, we at the 49ers STEM Leadership Institute (SLI) are excited to announce that all admission decisions for the incoming class of 2023 have been finalized. From the written applications to the student interviews to the SLI-hosted information sessions, we were amazed by the talent and passion of this year’s applicants. While we wish that we could accept everybody into the program, there are only a certain number of slots in each grade level cohort and admission is competitive; this year we had to turn away more than half of the applicants.

The incoming class will be coming from four different schools throughout the district to attend the program. As an introduction to SLI, they will be invited to various welcome events before the end of the year; and then they will officially start the program in July with SLI’s summer session. We are thrilled to welcome them to the program and excited to see everything they will accomplish over the next six years.

Students start working on Maker Faire 2017 projects


Maker Faire isn’t happing for a few months, but that doesn’t mean SLI students aren’t hard at work brainstorming and creating in anticipation. A celebration of the Maker Movement, Maker Faire is a unique festival that blends STEM fields, art, creativity, and problem solving. This year SLI is sending several teams from each grade to showcase creations specifically designed for the faire. Each grade was given a theme to springboard their creativity.

For 7th grade, the theme is “Growth Mindset In, Stress Out.” One team is responding by working on rose-colored lenses, designed to block blue-light emission from screens. Another team has been inspired to create a “music cube” based on ideas from music therapy.

The 8th graders have been given the theme “Exploration,” and students are proposing a diverse set of ideas, including a 3D printed caterpillar that can be programmed, a Maker Faire scavenger hunt app, and a problem-solving backpack cover.

The 9th grade theme is “Philanthropic Fabrication,” inspiring community-oriented, altruistic projects from students. Details to come!

San Jose Tech Museum’s Tech Challenge 2017 kicks off!


It’s that time of year again! SLI students from each grade will be participating in the 2017 Tech Challenge at The San Jose Tech Museum. Students have been given the following goal: to construct a device to help explorers cross two ravines in an ice field. According to the 2017 official rules, “Explorers must cross each ravine, bringing their entire device across for future use. Self-powered aerial solutions such as planes, drones, lighter-than-air vehicles or helicopters are prohibited.”

In the last couple weeks, SLI’s students have been preparing for the challenge by brushing up on their knowledge of simple machines and physics concepts. This material will serve as a stepping-stone toward creating simple, elegant solutions and prototypes for their final devices. We are looking forward to seeing what students come up with!

The Tech Challenge competition and showcase takes place in April at the San Jose Tech Museum.

The tech challenge’s concept for the Test Rig, available from the official rules PDF here.

Synopsys Championship 2017

Presented by the Santa Clara Valley Science & Engineering Faire Association


We are proud to announce that several SLI groups from each grade have been accepted to Synopsys Championship this year.

Synopsys is a prestigious local science fair that calls for rigorous project-based research from its participants. Its guidelines require a clearly defined question or problem; accurate testing and analysis; quantifiable, measurable results; and a clear definition of criteria for success or outcome.

SLI’s students are working on a wide variety of projects. In 7th grade, proposals included a DIY window-cleaning robot, a “procrastination app” to help students focus on homework, and UV activated hand sanitizer. One 8th grade group is repurposing facial recognition software to help Alzheimer’s patients distinguish loved ones from strangers. Another group is working on a filter to decrease the proliferation of high biomass algae. SLI’s high school freshman class has several proposals including an easily adjustable ramp for the disabled, a heat-sensing rescue robot, and a “Watchdog” app that uses algorithms, FitBit technology, and Android devices to monitor a user’s biometrics and alert loved ones.

The Synopsys Championship showcase will be taking place in March in San Jose. It is always a treat to attend, getting the chance to admire the results of SLI students and to be inspired by the remarkable research of all the participants.

ExploraVision 2016/17!


ExploraVision is a nationwide competition centered around the history and future of technology, and this year half of SLI’s students participated (while the other half tackled FIRST LEGO League or FIRST Tech Challenge).

Competing teams select a specific current technology and research all aspects of its origin and its modern day purpose and how exactly it works. “The students must then project into the future what that technology could be like 20 years from now and determine what scientific breakthroughs need to occur to make it a reality” ( including the particular benefits and consequences of the new technology.

As a part of the project, teams designed websites to showcase their research. Due to student privacy concerns, some websites were not able to be published online; please see below images for some of the web designs from grades 7 and 8 and links to some live websites for grade 9.

Leukemia-Curing Nanotechnology

This 7th grade team conjectured ways nanobots could be used to treat Leukemia in the future.

A Satellite-Collecting Satellite

This 8th grade team designed a satellite, created to remove debris and nonfunctioning technology from orbit.

Vacuum Train

Another 8th grade team looked at high-speed train technology and ways to potentially improve it.

Focus on Me

This 9th grade team imagined the future of glasses and how self-focusing lenses might help people without access to optometrist services.

Wing It: Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Repurposed for Refugee Health

This 9th grade team proposes using drones medically assist refugees in hard to access areas of the world.

Global Math Competition Results!


For the first time this year, students had the chance to participate in the Global Math Challenge (GMC). Sixty students volunteered to participate. As the GMC website says, “Looking at math as a sport that everyone can take part in, we decided to create a worldwide math contest – Global Math Challenge [which includes] brain-teasers that stimulate your curiosity and logical thinking [and] beautifully illustrated questions that are easy for anybody to follow.” SLI students took the test online at home. It consisted of ten difficult questions, and students were given forty minutes to complete the test. Scoring was not only based on the answers, but also on the time spent on each question.

We are excited to announce that two 9th graders and one 8th grader placed in the bronze category, and one 8th grader placed silver, ranking 1st in the USA and 36th in the world. Congratulations!

Hour of Code™


This year middle school students participated in the nationwide initiative, Hour of Code™. As describes it, “The Hour of Code started as a one-hour introduction to computer science, designed to demystify “code”, to show that anybody can learn the basics, and to broaden participation in the field of computer science. It has since become a worldwide effort to celebrate computer science, starting with 1-hour coding activities but expanding to all sorts of community efforts.”

SLI students participated by spending an hour on Wednesday designing an original device to place a Ping-Pong ball in an upright cup at the center of a 6-foot circle; and additionally spending an hour learning about computational thinking.

Hour of Code™ traditionally takes place during “Computer Science Education Week,” which usually centers around the birthday of computing innovator Admiral Grace Murray Hopper (December 9th).

The ‘Hour of Code™’ is a nationwide initiative by Computer Science Education Week and to introduce millions of students to one hour of computer science and computer programming.

49ers SLI Student Application Open!


Key Dates

12/8/16: Application Opens

12/14/16 – 12/21/16: Information Sessions and Open House

1/9/17: Application Closes

1/18/17 – 1/20/17: Semi-finalists invited to interview

1/23/17 – 1/27/17: Semi-finalist interviews

2/6/17 – 2/10/17: Accepted students notified

2/8/17 – 2/15/17: Accepted students commit to program

Visit the application page for more information and to find links to the online form.

FIRST LEGO League & FIRST Tech Challenge


It’s that time of year again! For the third year in a row, SLI’s middle school students are teaming up to compete in FIRST LEGO League (FLL). Each team designs and programs a robot to complete challenges that change every year. This year’s competition theme is “Animal Allies,” focusing on endangered species and wildlife preservation. Not only will the robotic challenges center around that theme; but teams are required to research and present solutions to real world problems that relate to the theme.

This year, the SLI team titled “King of the Ocean” decided to design and create a website to present their research about the endangered Delta Smelt of Sacramento. They’ve prototyped a color sensor for detecting plankton levels in the smelt’s living environment. Check out their findings on their website at

While the middle school students are focusing on FLL, SLI’s high school students will be participating in FIRST® Tech Challenge (FTC). This year’s competition, titled “Velocity Vortex,” is played like a game, with different achievements awarding teams different points. Most of the goals involve robots moving a ball (sometimes large, sometimes small) into a particular area of the arena. Its complicated rules result in constantly changing game conditions, requiring creative problem-solving and quick decision-making from participants. For more information, check out FTC’s 2016/17 challenge website.

Update: We are pleased to announce that the following awards and honors have been won by our FLL and FTC teams in the local qualifying tournaments.

At the high-school FTC competitions, three teams were invited to participate in the semi-final rounds of the qualifying tournaments and  one team was awarded for their advancement to the championship round of the qualifying tournaments. 

At the middle-school FLL tournaments, Project Awards were given to two SLI teams, “The Albino Alligators” and “Animal Allegiance.” The Judges’ Award  was given to the SLI team “Audacious Turtle 51”. And the SLI team “King of the Ocean” was nominated for the Global Innovation Award and they will be presenting their research at a judged showcase in 2017. In addition, the teams “Audacious Turtle 51” and “Animal Allegiance” are advancing to the district/regional championships in early 2017!

Welcome to Summer Session 2016!


Welcome back! While the school year has not yet officially started, our students are back in the labs, exploring, prototyping, experimenting, and learning. Over the next three weeks, students will do team-building activities, familiarize themselves with the design thinking cycle, study circuits and computer science, and begin introductions to science and math classes. All program teachers and many program administrators will be facilitating and teaching all three weeks,  familiarizing themselves with the students and their work.

This year marks the opening of our brand-new Fab Foundation-certified lab at Santa Clara High School, which features many new and exciting tools, such as a CNC tool (ShopBot), a compact mill, a band saw, a sewing and embroidery machine, and a molding and casting station; and all this is in addition to new laser cutters, a vinyl cutter, and 3-D printers. The summer will also be spent familiarizing students with the new equipment and encouraging its application to projects.

It’s exciting to see all the students back in school and tackling new challenges and building on their experience from the year before. Here’s to the upcoming year and the challenges, discoveries, and knowledge it will bring!

Tech Challenge 2016: Take Flight!


Last weekend was Tech Challenge at the San Jose Tech Museum, and we had eleven teams compete! This year’s challenge was particularly tricky. The students were challenged to create a glider that would fly over a 3½-foot mountain range, clear a 6-foot-tall pylon, and then land on a target approximately 3 feet in diameter. The glider could be mechanically launched, but not at an angle; and the entire course was only 29 feet in length.

Observers were on the edge of their seats as many gliders ran into the mountain range or pylon. Ones that got past both obstacles automatically merited an “ooh” or “aah.” And the gliders that actually landed close to the target elicited rounds of cheers and applause.

After the middle school competition, the Tech Museum held a corresponding awards ceremony. We are excited to announce that the 49ers STEM Leadership Institute’s team The Fighter Gliders brought home the Judges Choice Award for Best Research.

We will be holding our own internal awards ceremony to honor all the 49ers STEM Leadership Institute teams and to celebrate the hard work that they put in over the last several months.

Synopsys Science Fair


Who doesn’t love a good old science fair? The Synopsys sponsored science fair is an elite event that is selective about its participants and rigorously enforces student diligence, safety, and intricate paperwork. In doing so, the Synopsys Science Fair gives its participants a real glimpse into what being an actual researcher requires. The 49ers STEM Leadership Institute had about twenty groups participate this year, and we are thrilled to announce that many of our students won awards in a variety of categories.  One of our 7th grade students even took home first prize in her category for running a clinical study regarding memory, mood, and anxiety in middle school students, and the grand prize overall for her grade level. She and her project will be continuing on to the State Science Fair in Los Angeles in May.

Update: Our student who attended the State Science Fair in Los Angeles won Honorable Mention for her study in cognitive science. Congratulations!

First Lego League


This year we had nine teams compete in First Lego League, and the competition theme was “Trash Trek”. Using Lego Kits, teams built robots specifically designed to complete various challenges, such as retrieving and delivering specific items and sorting debris. In addition, they were tasked with creating a team project around the theme of trash.  We’re proud to say that multiple teams won awards. Two teams won Core Value Awards. One team won a Project Award. And one team won a Champion’s Award. Additionally, two teams qualified for the regional competition. Congratulations to all!

As an organization, we also hosted one of the local qualifying tournaments at Santa Clara High School, where we will be launching the high school portion of our program next year.  It was a crazy but fun-filled day and we can’t wait to do it again next year!

Update: While neither of our two teams advanced beyond the regional competition, they had a wonderful time showcasing their Lego robots as well as their project ideas, and were inspired by the multitude of other teams from our region who also competed at the event!

49ers STEM Leadership Institute is proudly supported by

John Smith

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Jane Smith

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