BCS students use design thinking to solve real-world challenges

Bullis Charter School students Naomi Ichiriu, from left, Noah Kaufman, Caleb Chen and Andy Nilson collaboratively developed a hydroponics system under the guidance of teacher Mick Coleman to grow plants without soil.

As seventh-graders at Bullis Charter School, we recently completed a three-week Engineering & Design Intersession (EDI) to solve real-world problems.

Our group chose to solve a problem presented by Bullis Charter School MakerSpace teacher Mick Coleman, which was to develop a hydroponics system to grow plants in a space-efficient manner in his classroom.

Our EDI group decided to design and physically construct a table that would grow plants without soil. The process was long and difficult, but our final product came out well and fit Mr. Coleman’s needs.


Using the engineering design process, we first interviewed Mr. Coleman to gain his perspective and needs in order for our group to design a solution. Mr. Coleman wanted a vertical table that water could flow through, that he could hang lights on and one where he wouldn’t have to bend down to reach.


We changed our design multiple times to fit Mr. Coleman’s requirements. This step in our EDI project made us more empathetic to Mr. Coleman’s wants in the hydroponics system.

Our group created a prototype of a tall, vertical table with a frame and a top, so lights could hang from the wooden top by a clip. The prototyping process was very useful in getting our ideas out; however, we would have liked more time to make a more detailed rapid prototype. Because we were continually revising and changing our ideas, the prototype we made was nothing like our finished project.


During the testing phase of the project, we tried out different ideas in the form of a physical model and also created 3-D models using the computer program SketchUp. We used these to troubleshoot and redesign, based on what we learned.

In addition, we interviewed Mr. Coleman periodically to keep him updated on our progress and project in general. He gave us feedback, which we used to modify our project and ensure that our project suited his needs.


One of the most valuable things we learned was the importance of ideating. Throughout the design process, we used ideating and iterating on our ideas to improve our design. We also used ideating to solve problems our group encountered. For example, when our project was too tall for the door, we took apart the frame and made it detachable, ultimately making it easier for our user as well.

Another valuable thing we learned was how to cooperate. One of the many challenges our group had was learning how to work well together. We resolved this by figuring out our individual skills and created roles for everybody based on their strengths.

Bullis Charter School’s HydroGrow team members Caleb Chen, Naomi Ichiriu, Noah Kaufman and Andy Nilson co-authored this column.

Members of Bullis robotics team invent Greymobile to save water

by Gabriel Ancajas, BCS 6th grader and member of the Yomibots robotics team

Yomibots team members present their invention, the Greymobile, a bike that delivers recycled water to lawns. Pictured are, from left, Chase Omura, Nikash Gupta, Alex Zaretzki, Gabriel Ancajas and Sean Herby.

Water is a big part of our life; we use 80-100 gallons per day. Think of it as 28,800-36,000 gallons per year. Bottom line is, we use a lot of water. Not to mention that we have had way below average rainfall at the end of 2017 and in the beginning of 2018.

Conserving this precious resource is paramount. Luckily, the Yomibots – a FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Lego League robotics team – has been working on ways to save it by using greywater.

What is greywater? Greywater is partially contaminated water, in between clean water and blackwater. Blackwater is completely contaminated water that should not be reused for anything, usually coming from the toilet. Clean water is from your tap or refrigerator that can be used for drinking and anything else.

Greywater is still contaminated, not good enough for drinking but still usable for watering trees, plants and lawns. It can usually be obtained from washing machines and bathtubs (depending on the type of soap or detergent used). Greywater systems can be installed to redirect your water into your lawn or plants.

I spoke with Margaret Suozzo, co-founder of GreenTown Los Altos, and she said the reason this is an effective savings is that 50-75 percent of the water we use, which comes from the Sierra Nevada range, is just dumped straight onto our lawns.

So now you may be wondering what we plan on doing with greywater as a team. Well, Chase, a member of the Yomibots, has an elderly neighbor named Marilyn who is in her 90s. She lives by herself, so she doesn’t produce as much greywater as Chase’s family of four. To help Marilyn, Chase and the rest of our team invented the Greymobile – greywater on wheels. This invention enables Chase to transport his family’s greywater to Marilyn’s lawn.

How does the Greymobile work? Basically, it is a bike with a large compartment with wheels that has a cooler inside. The cooler stores the greywater, which would come from a washing machine or bathtub, and has a nozzle to dispense it onto a lawn area. All Chase needs to do is ride the Greymobile over to Marilyn’s lawn, take the cover off the nozzle and ride it around her lawn while it dispenses the water. The Greymobile is a fun, fast and easy way to water your and your neighbor’s lawns.

We may think that water is a small part of our life, but in reality it’s bigger than you could ever imagine. That is why we need to find innovative ways – like the Greymobile – to conserve this valuable resource.

So “water” you going to do to save water?