Reynoldsburg STEM students, along with students from several other Ohio schools, took on a tough challenge this past school year -- improving heart health.

The culmination of that effort came at the May 15 Battelle Innovation Showcase, sponsored by Battelle with the Ohio STEM Learning Network.

One hundred students from 19 schools, including Reynoldsburg (HS)2 Academy and Herbert Mills Elementary School, detailed creative solutions to heart disease for an audience of leaders in health and STEM education.

"It was a really impressive and exciting day," said Aimee Kennedy, Battelle senior vice president of education and philanthropy. "What really stuck with me was the work of some of our youngest participants and their ability to relate their findings to adults."

Kennedy said this was the first year the challenge was open to elementary school students.

"The students took up the challenge with gusto," she said. "They made their own exercise videos, designed their own parks. We expect this kind of comprehensive problem-solving from high school students. It is so impressive to see it in our young students."

Brian Coffey, STEM teaching and learning administrator for Reynoldsburg's (HS)2 and BELL academies, said (HS)2 kicked off the project in January with a pep rally.

"Our Bodies and Health & Human Advocacy classes went to all six elementary schools in the district to promote healthy lifestyle choices, plus students from one of our math classes participated in a 'Calories Count' STEM project," he said.

The district also asked some of the youngest students -- first-graders from Herbert Mills Elementary -- to take on the challenge.

Teacher Tonya Sherman said her first-graders began the project in February, focusing on healthy eating, different types of exercise, and how lifestyle choices can affect heart health.

"The first-graders worked out together every morning for an entire month while learning about different types of exercises from around the world," she said.

A survey also went out to elementary school families, asking how often family members worked out at home and if they would be interested in learning heart-healthy exercises.

"Students looked at the data collected from families and worked together to come up with a solution," Sherman said. "They decided to create heart-healthy videos that they could share with their families, friends and other members of our community."

She said each class created a different type of video, such as yoga, cardio, strength training and dance.

The videos were shared at a school innovation night, then student ambassadors were chosen to speak on behalf of the first grade at the Battelle showcase.

First-grade teacher Carly Rittenour also considered the project valuable.

"Not only did the students get to showcase their design thinking and unique solutions, they also got to witness other students' ideas and solutions," she said. "They also had the opportunity to practice public speaking skills while talking to public figures and a Battelle scientist."

(HS)2 teacher Christine Schafrath said this is the second year her Health and Human Advocacy students have participated in the Battelle challenge.

"I have really enjoyed digging into wicked problems that deeply affect our community, and heart health is certainly one of them," she said.

She said two groups of students focused on awareness campaigns for targeted groups -- student athletes and African Americans. Students created awareness campaigns and implemented them via social media and printed posters.

Those who participated in the Battelle event created a heart-monitoring device, an actual tool based on a stethoscope with digital monitoring and Bluetooth capability, intended to be easily accessible and usable for student athletes. It was paired with an app to record data and help the user make heart-healthy decisions related to diet, exercise and monitoring, Schafrath said.

Kennedy said design challenges create experiences where students may see their own ideas as solutions to world problems.

Participating schools this year included the Metro Early College High School, Metro Institute of Technology, Ann Simpson Davis Middle School in Dublin, Ridgeview STEM Junior High from Pickerington, Winchester Trail Elementary School from Canal Winchester, and STEM schools from Akron, Chillicothe, Toledo and Youngstown.

Coffey said he was impressed with how Reynoldsburg students embraced the challenge.

"Whenever we, as educators, have the opportunity to expose our students to real-life scenarios to problem-solve and apply their learning to meaningful applications of knowledge, we win," he said. "We win by providing students with ways to foster curiosity and wonder; we win by providing students and outlet to trial and error to discover new skills ... and we win by sparking in students a belief in what their future could look like."