Author Archives: avogelsa

Winner triumphs in “tense” situation

Eighth grader Anna Zeng was “pronoun-ced” the the winner after working through the preliminary, regional and semi-final rounds of the Electronic Grammar Usage Mechanics Proficiency Program (EGUMPP) Grammar Bowl State Finals at Grand Canyon University on April 14.

The Arizona EGUMPP Grammar Bowl is a test and on-stage competition for 8th and 9th graders focusing on grammar concepts and terminologies. Students work through the phases of the competition, first scoring at least a 90 percent on a mastery test, then taking an online test and finally taking a timed written test to qualify for finals. Out of 500 students who start at the preliminaries phase, only 24 make it to finals.

Of the 24 finalists, seven were from BASIS schools at Oro Valley and Chandler. BASIS School, Inc. is a non-profit organization that has charter schools throughout Arizona. Zeng is from BASIS Oro Valley.

Anna Zeng and Farhan Rahman with (from left to right) former Senator John Hupenthal, Robert Safran (creator of EGUMPP) and Senator Rich Crandall. Photo courtesy of BASIS Schools, Inc.

“[Anna] displayed grace under pressure,” says BASIS Oro Valley English teacher and Grammar Bowl advisor Susie Lantz in a press release.

Having to answer more questions than many other competitors because of a random choosing for a reduction round, Zeng still won first place prizes of a $5,000 college scholarship, a trip for four to Washington D.C., and a new iPad.

Runner up, 8th grader Farhan Rahman, is from BASIS Chandler.

“We are very proud of Farhan,” says BASIS Chandler English teacher and Grammar Bowl advisor Cyndi O’Brien in a press release. “He worked hard to prepare for the finals and is already planning to compete again next year.”

Farhan and his family. Photo courtesy of BASIS Schools, Inc.


Sustainable inventions from Tesseract 7th graders

From apps to clothes to organizational tools, seventh graders at Tesseract School have thought of and created sustainable inventions that can make life easier and better while also helping the planet.

On top of writing a persuasive letter in English class that was directed toward a company or someone who might distribute the inventions, students designed models and samples of their ideas. When they first started their projects eight weeks ago, they spent about the first month brainstorming and working on a packet to help decide what their projects would be.

“At first I was a little freaked out because I didn’t know what I was going to do, and it seemed kind of hard,” said seventh grader Max Whooley. But he said “eventually everyone got a good idea; even if it wasn’t 100 percent an invention no one had done before, they all had something unique.”

One student, inspired by a trip to Cambodia, constructed shoes from bike tires. Another created a Drive-In that goes into businesses so people can order food, leave and then drive back to find their food in a nice container ready to be picked up.

Jessica Wilder decided organization was a big problem, especially for her sister. So she devised a backpack with folders already attached for organizing papers, as well as a planner and notebook that attaches handily with Velcro to the outside of the “Pack Back.”

For virtual organizing, Landon Nutt created the app iBackpack which allows students to access a dictionary, Spanish website, grades, math books and notes that can be uploaded if they were taken online. He doesn’t like carrying all his books in his backpack, so this would be a lot easier and also save paper, Nutt said.

Biosoilable bags are handy for planting without doing a lot of the work or harming the environment, said Ariana Lesniak. The bag is made from potato starch, glycerin, vinegar, water and baking soda, and “it looks like you poured the soil in and did all the hard work, when you really didn’t do any of it,” Lesniak said.

For pet lovers, Lea Byrnes came up with the Green Pet, Pet Bed, a doggy bed made out of recycled pajamas. Because her dog continuously ruins his plastic bed, Byrnes decided to make a washable bed that wouldn’t waste materials, she said.

For campers as well as Third World countries that don’t have electricity, Gabby Vatistas created a light using zinc and copper in potatoes, an idea started because of her pet peeve of people leaving lights on. Another student, Lisa Lewson, is bothered when people leave a public restroom without washing their hands, so she made a model of her idea to have a voice asking, “Did you remember to wash your hands?” when the bathroom door opens.

Devin Gillis, wanting to do something with designing and photography, decided to create economy friendly shirts that are displayed online in pictures she took. Whenever someone buys a shirt, another shirt with a logo she designed is sent to a child in need. Her company, Sublime, means “of such excellence and grace,” Gillis said. She wants to open the idea of good karma and inspire people to “do something good just to do something good.”

 “The students demonstrated remarkable enthusiasm, ingenuity and resourcefulness from beginning to end for this project,” said middle school science teacher Andrew Martin in a press release.

The students will be presenting their inventions at Tesseract’s Celebration of Innovation Thursday, March 22 from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the middle and high school campus, 3939 East Shea Blvd in Phoenix.

Story and photos by Amy Vogelsang

The Veritas Homeschoolers’ Future City essay

Veritas Homeschoolers
Teacher: Mary Ann Ekstrom
Engineer Mentor: Ken Ekstrom

One of the most critical issues facing Taiwan during the early 21st century was the country’s reliance upon imported energy.  Due to minimal energy sources, Taiwan received 98% of its energy from China.  For this reason, great needs existed for Taiwan to develop its own energy resources and to establish aggressive conservation and efficiency standards.  To ensure the sustainability of its people, and the security of their nation, nuclear engineers from Xiwang, Taiwan, have developed a safe, efficient, form of energy called “HBfuse.”

With the ability to generate power without the radioactive waste of nuclear fission, Xiwang’s primary energy source, HBfuse, consists of the aneutronic fusion of hydrogen and boron fuels.  First researched in the United States during the early 21st century by Lawrenceville Plasma Physics, and tested at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Xiwang’s nuclear engineers have developed decentralized reactors for commercial use.

HBfuse uses dense plasma focus reactors, made up of two cylindrical beryllium copper electrodes set inside each other, inside a vacuum chamber filled with low-pressure gas. A blast of electricity from an energy storage device, called a capacitor bank, is released across the electrodes. The extreme current flows from the outside electrode to the inner electrode, through the low pressure gas, last just over a few millionths of a second. As the current heats the gas, it develops a powerful magnetic field.  The current molds itself into a slim coating of blazing, electrically-conducting plasma gas. Next, the plasma enters the end of the inner electrode, where the magnetic fields create an electric field. An electron beam heats the plasma to an unprecedented temperature, 100 times hotter than the center of the sun. The astonishing temperature created is approximately 2 billion degrees Celsius.

The benefits of aneutronic fusion are many.  Both nuclear fission and conventional neutronic fusion generates heat requiring turning water to steam in order to spin turbines to generate electricity.  In contrast, aneutronic fusion creates electricity directly.  This is due to the positively charged helium ions, which create neutron-free nuclear fusion.  Since electricity is created directly, valuable land which would otherwise be used to house large power plants, can now be conserved.   Costs associated with building and running a power plant are saved along with the water that would have been needed for a conventional power plant.  In addition, aneutronic fusion does not produce neutrons as a product of the reaction.  This is unlike nuclear fission, where a neutron splits a large atom into smaller atoms, releasing more neutrons for a radioactive chain reaction.  Nuclear fission also has many concerns, such as nuclear proliferation and containment.  In contrast to conventional neutronic fusion, aneutronic fusion does not involve the fusion of deuterium and tritium.  Tritium is in short supply, is radioactive, and can be used in nuclear weapons. Non-radioactive helium gas is the only “waste product” from HBfuse. Furthermore, the materials to create hydrogen-boron fuels are common. Hydrogen comes from water, and boron can be extracted from natural sources such as sea water.  HBfuse is an amazing source of safe, radiation free, and clean energy.

Each HBfuse reactor consists of a 5 megawatt system, producing enough energy to power 1,000 homes.  Compact in size, HBfuse reactors are so small, they take up no more space than a standard two-car garage.  Due to energy efficiency, many family units live in large residential towers.  These towers each have an HBfuse reactor adjacent to them, while our communities with single family homes have 2 reactors per community.

Xiwang chemical engineers and researchers have created revolutionary bio-fuels from waste rice straw. Rice is the number one crop grown in Taiwan. After harvesting the grain, rice straw is left behind. Instead of going to waste, the material is turned into bio-fuel. This inventive fuel provides a net energy gain, which means that the energy used to harvest it is less than the amount of energy produced. In addition, rice straw is produced without reducing food supplies.

Making wise use of Xiwang’s unique natural resources, additional energy is provided by wind, geothermal, and solar power.  Due to Xiwang’s coastal location, harnessing energy from the ocean was considered.  However, after considering the environmental impact that wave, tidal, and deep ocean turbines might have on marine life, the decision was made to omit all forms of ocean energy.

Sustainable energy in Taiwan is transmitted via computational systems thinking machines(CSTMs), advanced smart grids created by Xiwang’s electrical, IT, and telecom engineers.  These grids provide excellent two-way communication between Xiwang’s energy sources and its energy consumers.  In order to handle excess energy within the grid, large scale power storage, using technologically advanced nanomaterial batteries, consisting of sodium and potassium water based electrolytes, are used.  For additional energy storage, pumped-storage plants, producing hydroelectricity, enable widespread use of renewable power. Excess energy produced in Xiwang is sold to neighboring China, and transmitted through submarine cables.

Due to increased energy demands, Xiwang’s software engineers, electrical engineers, scientists, and researchers are strongly committed to energy conservation, efficiency, awareness, and education. Through the use of superior energy management, Xiwang’s electrical engineers regularly measures and tracks the energy performances of all operations, and have implemented steps to increase energy efficiency.

With the use of energy monitoring dashboards and software, Xiwang’s residents are now able to successfully manage their own energy.  Efficient 4th Generation Platinum LEED buildings conserve natural resources while protecting Xiwang’s environment.  Water conservation and recycling, along with advanced energy efficient appliances, and walking to work helps Xiwang’s residents to conserve energy and use very little fuel as well as maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Due to the dedication of Xiwang’s engineers, Taiwan is no longer reliant upon other countries for its energy needs.  Now a world leader in research and development, sustainability, and conservation, Xiwang is a proud example of what can be achieved when an entire community works together to make a better, safer tomorrow.

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City of Xiwang takes first in Future City

Veritas Homeschoolers won 1st place in the regional Future City Competition at the finals on Saturday, Jan. 28.

Front row: (from left) Jesse Friedman, Cambrie Hickman, Rachel Fisher, and Timothy Graunke. Back row: (from left) Guest speaker Randii Wessen, Ken Ekstrom and Mary Ann Ekstrom.

Students Jesse Friedman, project manager, Cambrie Hickman, Rachel Fisher and Timothy Fraunke  created the City of Xiwang – City of Hope in Taiwanese – an island off the coast of Taiwan in the year 2162. Their display included a monorail-type system with light up balls that moved around the perimeter of the city, a marina complete with fish inside and an entire underground view of systems and energy sources.

The students were guided by engineer mentor Ken Ekstrom and teacher and sponsor Mary Ann Ekstrom, who said the kids learned a lot through their participation in the competition.

“At this point we will begin preparing for the national competition by rethinking some of the questions they were asked by all the judges, considering other questions that may be raised or asked and talking with several energy experts,” Mary Ann said in a press release.

For the competition, each student group was required to write a 1,000-word essay describing their use of an alternate energy source that would generate electric power for their city without depleting natural resources. They then gave a presentation to judges.

Link to full essay

Required to use an alternate energy source, these students chose to use hydrogen boron fusion or HB fuse. The students also explained how solar power is used for energy and light. Rooftop gardens are aesthetically pleasing as well as practical for absorbing heat and all extra energy is sold to China through an underwater cable. They also say the city also has “smart buildings” equipped with advanced communication systems and an extensive amount of night life and activities.

Veritas homeschoolers were asked, “Why use solar, wind, geothermal, biofuels and fusion as energy sources?” To this they replied that these were all readily available and could be used as backups if an energy source failed.

Garden Lakes Elementary won 2nd place, Canyon Breeze Elementary were 3rd, Colonel Smith Middle School received a 4th place award and Orangedale Junior High won 5th place. Pictures of the 2nd through 5th place winning groups were taken by volunteer and pro-photographer John Jacoby, and can be seen in his online gallery. — Amy Vogelsang

New Vistas students receive awards in Creative Expressions Contest

Four young students from New Vistas Center for Education private school received first, second and third place awards in the City of Chandler’s Creative Expressions Contest and Centennial Poster competition. The winners were announced Friday, Jan. 20, by Community Resources and Diversity Manager Leah Powell.

Alessandra Isaacson sings a song dedicated to Chandler residents, of all heritages, who miss their homeland.

This year, 1,100 children submitted entries in performance, writing and visual arts categories. First place in performance for kindergarten through fourth grade was New Vistas first grader Alessandra Isaacson. She introduced her a capella song in both Spanish and English and dedicated it to those who miss their homeland.

“The song is about missing your home and having no one around who knows you,” Isaacson said in a press release from the school. “I like to sing in front of people. It makes me happy.”

In the writing category, Sasha Guntu won first place with an essay about coming to America.

Sisters Melinda and Madeleine Chang.

In visual arts, Madeleine Chang (5) came in third with a painting of a Chandler farm and her sister Melinda Chang (10) came in second for her depiction of downtown Chandler’s Farmer’s Market.

“There are 29 different people in my picture and they are all doing something different,” Melinda said in the press release.

Melinda also won first place out of 1,500 entries in the Centennial Poster Contest.

All first place winners were congratulated and awarded cash prizes at a Jan. 23 Chandler City Council Meeting. — Amy Vogelsang

Melinda's drawing of the downtown Chandler's Farmer's Market.

Melinda's first place winning entry of the Centennial Poster Contest.

Student awarded scholarship to attend Tesseract School

Freshman Ellis Green has received the first Ruth and David Learner Scholarship from Tesseract School.

The scholarship was created in August 2011 to allow talented high school students to enroll at the private school when they otherwise would not be able to afford it.

The scholarship was awarded to Ellis because he “embodies the zeal for learning and education that was envisioned when creating this scholarship,” Nathan Learner, Tesseract School parent and board member, said in a press release.

Green participated in many academic competitions throughout middle school, including spelling bees, science fairs and Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth competitions. He also enjoys playing clarinet and piano, hiking, swimming and creating computer-aided design projects. In order to incorporate a challenging yet nourishing academic environment that also met Green’s other interests, his parents began looking for the right high school.

After an unsuccessful start to his freshman year, Green’s parents looked into Tesseract.

“Tesseract’s learning environment is ideal for Ellis – it is personal, creative, challenging and meaningful,” Green’s father, Tyler Green, said in a press release. “The start to his freshman year at another school was distressing to him. Now he comes home and describes his classes as ‘awesome’ and ‘fantastic’ and his teachers as ‘really, really there for me.’ This school has been miraculous for him.”

The Ruth and David Learner Scholarship made it possible for Green to experience Tesseract School.

“We hope he is the first of many students who will gain access to Tesseract education via the Learner Scholarship,” Learner said.

The school also offers other scholarships in a variety of areas. To learn about the scholarship program and how to apply contact the director of admissions and community relations, Scott Salk, at 480-385-3673. To learn more about Tesseract School visit — Amy Vogelsang

School Choice Week town hall

Americans for Prosperity (AFP) Foundation-Arizona with Arizona School Choice Trust will host a town hall, Restoring American Exceptionalism – Arizona Townhall, January 22 at Radisson Phoenix-Chandler from 6-8 p.m. as part of National School Choice Week. The purpose of the townhall is to promote school choice as an avenue to improve the performance of American students. According to the event website they want to support successful schools and hold failing schools accountable.

“It’s time to put children and parents first in the education policy debate, not the bureaucrats and not the unions,” Tom Jenney, director of AFP Foundation-Arizona, said in a press release. “Governments in Arizona spend over $9,000 a year on the average child in the public district schools, and yet 71 percent of eighth graders are not proficient in math and 73 percent are no proficient in reading.”

There will be a simulcast event with Fox News contributor Juan Williams and Hugh Hewitt that will also be aired live on the internet at Tom Jenney, Education Policy Director Jonathan Butcher and Arizona School Choice Trust Executive Director Liz Moser Dreckman will hold a Q&A session on education policy reform.

This is one of almost 50 events taking place nationwide between January 22 and 28. Free tickets are available.