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Kinetic sculptures and science carnivals and microgrants, oh my!

Philly Tech Week and The Franklin Institute are teaming up to award microgrants to Kensington Derby & Arts Festival competitors, and PTW will have a presence at the Philadelphia Science Festival.

Bee excited. (Photo via

This article is sponsored by Philly Tech Week 2019 presented by Comcast. See the updated Philly Tech Week calendar here.

Update: Mention of a fourth microgrant winner, C.C.A. Baldi Middle School, has been added. (4/19/19, 1:03 p.m.)
While kinetic engineers are working on ways to power their vehicles for the 2019 PFCU Kensington Derby & Arts FestivalTechnically Media decided to power its imagination: Philly Tech Week 2019 presented by Comcast and The Franklin Institute (FI) teamed up to offer $2,500 in microgrants to competitors.

PTW, the Philadelphia Science Festival (run by FI) and the Kensington Derby & Arts Festival — the city’s three major STEAM festivals — all occur within a few dayst of each other. In an effort to make science more accessible and make related activities more widely engaging, coordinators from each event decided to work together.

The Kensington Derby & Arts Festival, happening this year on Saturday, May 11, started as a small community day in a little northeastern pocket of the city 13 years ago. It has turned into a one-of-a-kind event that is attended by folks across the region. The main highlight of  the day is the derby itself, where teams parade their hand-built vehicles.

But there are a few catches. Each contraption is required to use kinetic energy, which means no electricity or gas. Pushing and walking are not allowed either. The derby finish line features a mud pit — where some competitors shine and others face-plant in the gunk.

Technical skill isn’t the only element necessary to win the derby. The competition awards best costume design, best breakdown and best/worst pun in design.

Of course, all of this innovation and imagination is going to cost to construct, and that’s where the microgrants come in. The total award will be shared by these four teams:

  • Kinetic Killers
  • El Centro de Estudiantes
  • Bells Bike Shop
  • C.C.A. Baldi Middle School

The funds will go to good use for folks like Joeseph Cherkasky of Killer Kinetics, who has been participating in the derby for several years. In the past, the Killer Kinetics team have put together pop culture-inspired vehicles that reference the likes of “Animal House” and “The Munsters.” (Although Cherkasky didn’t offer much detail on this year’s design, he said it’ll be very different from previous years.)

And although the microgrants are awarded to specific teams, the impact has the potential of reaching much further: Innovation has the power to inspire communities.

“You need those vehicles to show kids what you can build beyond bikes — to see what is possible and to be inspired to make these kinds of devices,” Cherkasky said.

The students of El Centro de Estudiantes are a good example of young people who are exploring STEM topics thanks to the encouragement of an adult in their lives: They will be working with adviser Douglas John Cox to get their vehicle rolling. Cox has been a teacher in Philadelphia for 12 years, and uses chess and social networking to improve educational outcomes and foster teamwork, courtesy, integrity and perseverance in his students. In 2014-2015, El Centro students solved more than 800,000 math problems from the First in Math program, and one of Cox’s students was the recipient of a chess scholarship.

What will they come up with for derby day?


If you want to catch sight of a sculpture, but can’t make it to the derby itself, come out to the PTW19 Kickoff Festival at the Science History Institute on Friday, May 3, from 5 to 10 p.m., where members of the Bells Bike Shop on Passayunk Avenue will be in attendance with their virtual school bus bike.

PTW will also have an exhibit at the kids corner of the Science Festival’s day-long Science Carnival, along with our partners CS4Philly and BSD Education.

Attendees will have the opportunity to explore the basics of JavaScript coding to remix the classic video game Pong, first by playing a BSD-built version of the classic video game and then use BSD Online’s code editor to customize their very own version of the game.

And CS4Philly will engage visitors to our tent by inviting them to become signers of the CS4Philly “Bill of Rights” proclaiming that all of Philadelphia’s children and youth have the right to access the knowledge, skills and abilities needed to be creators in the digital economy, not just consumers, and to be active citizens in our technology-driven world.

See you at the festivals!

Projects: Philly Tech Week

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