Kansas Middle School Science Teacher Tyson Vrbas Wins 2021 Vernier Engineering Award

Vernier Software & Technology recently announced science educator Tyson Vrbas of Manhattan Catholic Schools in Manhattan, Kansas as the 2021 Engineering Award winner. Vrbas, who worked with his middle school students to create an automatic watering system for the school garden, was recognized for his creative use of Vernier sensors to introduce engineering and robotics concepts or practices to his students.

In the project, Vrbas’ students utilized a Vernier Soil Moisture Sensor and LEGO® MINDSTORMS® EV3 kit to design a robot with the ability to monitor soil moisture and add water from a rain barrel when needed. Students programmed the robot so that a valve would automatically open—and then water the planter bed in the school garden—once the soil moisture minimum threshold was reached.

“I just presented the problem to my students and they took off with it,” said Vrbas. “Every student played a part, whether it was focusing on programming or engineering the valve motor or working on the barrel. They really collaborated and problem solved as a group and, in the end, developed a really awesome solution.”

This winning project was selected by a panel of Vernier experts based on its innovation, the engineering concepts being taught, and the ease by which other educators can use the project in their classrooms. Vrbas received $1,000 in cash, $3,000 in Vernier products, and $1,500 toward expenses to attend an upcoming National Science Teachers’ Association (NSTA) STEM conference or an American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) conference.

Engineering educator Nels Lawrence of Kaukauna High School in Kaukauna, Wisconsin was also recognized with an honorable mention in this year’s award. During Lawrence’s project, which introduces programmable logic control (PLC) through a simulation of predictive failure, students gather vibration data using a Vernier accelerometer attached to a small electric motor and set an alarm using the Vernier Digital Control Unit. When a vibration above a certain threshold is detected, an LED lights up alerting students of a potential issue.

“Both of these projects exemplified creative uses of data-collection technology to teach students about engineering concepts and practices,” said John Wheeler, CEO of Vernier Software & Technology. “We hope these projects inspire other science and engineering educators who are looking for new ways to engage their students in hands-on learning as they problem-solve and iterate like real-world engineers.”

To learn more about the Vernier Engineering Award and this year’s winning projects, visit

The American Consortium for Equity in Education, publisher of the "Equity & Access" journal, celebrates and connects the educators, associations, community partners and industry leaders who are working to solve problems and create a more equitable environment for historically underserved pre K-12 students throughout the United States.

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