Drew Akins and Mary Manning, science teachers at Red Bank High School, pose for a photo Sunday, July 30, 2017, during Pitch Night for the Teacherpreneur Incubator at Granfalloon in Chattanooga, Tenn. The two were the first-place winners for this years Teacherpreneur Incubator Pitch Night with their drone racing competition project.

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Teachers' top ideasThree ways to improve education chosen at Pitch Night

Twenty-two teachers. Sixteen Hamilton County public schools. One weekend. That's what led up to Sunday evening's Teacherpreneur Pitch Night at the Granfalloon in Chattanooga.

Teachers spent the weekend working on two-minute pitches for the ideas they hope to implement over the next school year, and years to come. On Sunday they made their pitches to a panel of judges who would decide which would get money and support to "take ideas from concept to classroom."

The top three project teams won prize money, and a crowd favorite was chosen by audience online voting. This year, however, instead of having a first, second and third place, judges chose to select two runners-up and one first-place winner. One of the runners-up also was the crowd favorite.

"We are going to fund as many of these projects [as we can]," said Geoff Millener, innovation and technology program manager for the Public Education Foundation. "The folks taking home the prizes aren't the only ones who are going to keep working."

The first-place winning idea was a drone racing competition initiative proposed by Mary Manning and Drew Akins of Red Bank High School.

"It's estimated that 100,000 new jobs will be using drones in 2025," Akins said. "How do we take the excitement about drones and get it into the classroom? We not only want to teach students how to fly drones, but how to design, create, maintain and repair drones, as well as work on their teamwork and communication skills."

Manning and Akins got started last year, with students designing and building an obstacle course with makeshift materials. Manning said they used 12 Hula Hoops and six pool noodles set up for students to fly through and over and under.

This year, the two hope to have 120-140 students involved in the drone racing program. Akins said students in the physics classes will be in charge of designing and building everything from the drones to the LED lights in the obstacle courses.

Akins said a variety of jobs already use drones, from journalism to police and meteorology.

"We're always looking for ways to prepare our students for future careers," he said.

The first runner-up award went to Dan Basler of Lookout Valley Middle/High School for his Allstar Math Fitness Cards. The project incorporates math problems into a fun fitness workout.

Students pair up and complete a fitness activity listed on a card. Once they're done, they have to complete a math problem to find out what to do next.

"Students benefit from exercise combined with learning," Basler said during his pitch. "Exercise improves alertness, attention and motivation for learning."

Basler said he's used the cards for a number of years in his fitness classes, but he wants to make the program available for sale to other educators. He also hopes to develop a set that can be used in regular classrooms, as well as providing a free set for Hamilton County educators.

The second runner-up award went to Genise Fletcher of Tyner Academy and Lisa Blakely of Big Ridge Elementary for their Restorative Practices Model School initiative. They also won the crowd favorite award.

The Restorative Practices Model looks to deal proactively rather than reactively to at-risk children with behavior problems. They hope to do this by building respect and empathy among these students.

"If a student has been suspended," Blakely said during the team's pitch, "to help reduce the recidivism rate, we want them to learn how another person experienced that."

"You bring in everyone that the harm affected, and whoever did the harm, instead of shunning them, you talk about it and reintegrate them into the community," Fletcher said.

The team will choose one Hamilton County school to test the concept by concentrating resources and educators' efforts. They said the selection process will be data-driven, to see which school could most benefit from the program.

Blakely said it will likely take at least three years to see if the program is making a difference in children's behavior.

The two teachers said the data will most likely point to one of the schools within the iZone — Chattanooga's lowest- performing schools.

"They are probably our target," Fletcher said. "I came from those schools, so I know the demographics. I know the backgrounds. I know these kids like the back of my hand."

Fletcher said if the program can help in the schools, it also will help in the prison system and the court system.

"It helps everywhere," she said. "I've even been using it with my friends."

Contact staff writer Rosana Hughes at rhughes@timesfree or 423-757-6327. Follow her on Twitter @HughesRosana.