Students Set Mind Over Matter

Problem-solving Competition Held

April 08, 1992|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Staff writer

CATONSVILLE — The sacrifices over the last six months were worth it, said the seven Sykesville Middle School students who competed in the Odyssey of the Mind state finals Saturday at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

"Quote this: We have no social life," said Keith Knutson, a seventh-grader and son of Lynn and William Knutson of Eldersburg.

Their weekends and some weeknights were spent trying to rig up a series of delayed-reaction devices for the contraption they entered in the contest. And when they went to McDonald's restaurant, it was not to hang out with friends, but to brainstorm for ideas: Their contest entry had a fast-food theme.

They would have been willing to do without that social life a bit longer, they said, to go to the national/international finals in Colorado in May, but they didn't win Saturday.

After all, they picked the hardest of the problems available.

Their entry involved a model fast-food kitchen. It contained eight devices holding food that when triggered by a weight would drop thefood, which then would be processed -- such as french fries into a vat.

"The harder it is, the fewer teams compete against us, so we have a better chance to win," Keith said.

In fact, at the regional competition, only one other team chose that problem. Even though Sykesville's device didn't work at the regional competition, they sort ofwon by forfeit and qualified for the state event.

Despite defeat at the state level, the students were happy that seven of the eight chain reactions they rigged came off Saturday.

Of the four Carroll schools which placed at the regional level and qualified for the state finals Saturday, only Sandymount Elementary -- which placed third in its category -- made the top five winners. The rest will receive their detailed scores by mail in a few weeks.

Odyssey of the Mind isa private, non-profit group that sponsors competitions requiring students to solve a problem, such as designing and building a device, vehicle or structure. On the day of competition, they usually have about eight minutes to demonstrate their work.

Style, creativity and relevance all are important, which could be why the Sandymount students' project succeeded.

They wove into their project the theme of their school's remodeling while students are housed in portable classrooms in Westminster.

Here was the problem they had to solve:

Build five vehicles, each powered by a different source -- one pneumatic, one mechanical, one electric or battery, and one by vibration. The fifth could be the students' choice, and only two or three could be adapted from commercial toys or kits.

In addition, one vehicle had to pull a two-ounce weight, and another had to climb stairs. Each vehicle had to travel a 20-foot segment and pop a balloon at the end.

Teacher Sandra Zebal, one of the coaches for Sandymount, said the vibration vehicle was the hardest. The fourth- and fifth-graders riggeda flywheel to make it bounce forward.

"The kids have some experience in Cub Scouts," she said. "Plus, they have toys. We brought in all kinds of toys and saw how they worked."

Even though the five vehicles they built didn't pop any balloons and their store-bought stair-climbing vehicle couldn't get a leg up, Sandymount scored well with its theme of Dorothy trying to get to Oz to figure out how to put herschool back together again.

Dorothy, played by team member and fifth-grader Kevin Greene, would follow each vehicle, and at each of the five stations, another team member dressed as a character in literature would tell her how to get to Oz.

Other team members were Sandymount fifth-graders Jeffrey Mills and Adam Fisher and fourth-gradersJesse Peltzer, Joe Monheit, Tim Zebal and Meghan Levin, all of Finksburg.

Freedom and Eldersburg elementary schools had to build a balsa wood structure of 14 grams or less and see how much weight it could bear in the Atlas competition.

The Freedom team, made up of third- through fifth-graders, chose a boxing theme.

The Eldersburg team, which along with Sykesville Middle was sponsored by Freedom District Optimist Club, chose a Star Trek theme, calling it Star Wrek.

Eldersburg's structure held up for 275 pounds, which probably placed it in the top 10, said coach and parent Linda Powers of Eldersburg.

Freedom students were a little disappointed their structure collapsed at 200 pounds because during practice, they had built one that held412 pounds, said coach and parent Dwight Hunsicker.

But the boys weren't too upset -- they looked forward to the second part of competition -- called "spontaneous" -- where they had to answer or work outa problem on the spot.

"I like the pressure," said Tim Groves, a fifth-grader and son of Tim and Debbie Groves of Sykesville. "It makes you think harder."

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