Better mousetraps Competition: Students from six county schools built cars from mousetraps to solve an engineering problem in the Mousetrap Car Tournament.

February 13, 1997|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

The mousetrap is an effective -- if crude -- device used to solve vermin problems.

Yesterday, it became the solution to an engineering problem as students from five middle schools and a junior high competed in the first Mousetrap Car Tournament at Severn River Junior High School in Arnold.

Contestants used cars built from mouse traps to try to push as many as possible of the nine pingpong balls lined up in the middle of a 138-inch-long cafeteria table to the opponent's side.

"I thought it was just to catch mice," said Daniel Young, 13, an eighth-grader at Severn River.

"I've never even used a mousetrap before," said Patrick Gerard, 14, an eighth-grader at Corkran.

Students from Severn River, Brooklyn Park-Lindale, Corkran, George Fox, Severna Park, and Southern built cars for the race. They could use no more than three mousetraps and no ramps or launches to get the cars going. Beyond that, anything went.

The contest was the brainchild of Doug Jovan, the enrichment resource teacher at Severn River who has organized several mousetrap car competitions in his enrichment classes.

"I don't think there's enough exposure for kids to use engineering skills, Problem- solving, math skills, and science skills in a hands-on activity, and it's fun, too," he said.

One problem the students faced was the choice between distance and speed. A faster car might get to the balls first, but a slower car that traveled farther might be able to push back the faster car and the balls.

Some designs were more successful than others.

Candyce Offer, Katherine Bray and Stephanie Krus -- seventh-graders at Southern -- lost in the first round. "The Mowz Trap," as their car was dubbed, would not go straight because a string got caught in the rear axle and caused the car to veer off before it struck the balls.

"It looked fun, but it was complicated," Katherine said. "We had to figure out what things made what work."

Patrick Gerard and his partner, Jason Cook, 13, made it to the semifinal round with their two-mousetrap vehicle. The car had a balsa wood base, stabilized by two large Lego pieces, and a short front spoiler to push balls to the other end of the table.

Their enrichment teacher, Peggy Sange, said she was surprised when Patrick and Jason skipped lunch periods and stayed after school to fine-tune their car.

"Because of the challenge and the competition, these kids have gone way beyond what's required in the classroom," Sange said. "That's incredible and encouraging."

The winning car was "The Terminator," built by Tony Charles, Carl Covert and Doug Coon, seventh-graders at Brooklyn Park-Lindale. The vehicle, which used two mousetraps and pieces from Carl's erector set, defeated a car from Corkran.

"It was hard," Doug said. "But we learned that two mousetraps are better than one."

Jessica Cooper, 13, an eighth-grader at Brooklyn Park-Lindale, was disqualified when she showed up with a 30-inch-wide car powered by a rat trap. Her invention plowed the balls and other cars onto the other side of the table.

"I thought that it was for just killing rats," she said. "I guess it shows that if you use your imagination, you can do anything."

Pub Date: 2/13/97

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