Contest showcases students' ingenuity

Participants shine at technology event

April 01, 2001|By Donna W. Payne | Donna W. Payne,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Cars were racing, tractors were pulling, cranes were lifting and spectators were cheering yesterday at Wilde Lake High School. The occasion was the seventh annual Technology Challenge, sponsored by the Technology Education program for Howard County schools.

About 400 student technophiles from area elementary, middle and high schools met to test the performance of their masterpieces. Forget the standard stand-by-your-display-and-talk-about-seedlings-type science fair. The technology fair was all about action, with four dynamic challenges for each age group.

There were carbon dioxide-powered dragsters, magnetic-levitation vehicles, tug-of-war tractors, flying cargo planes and colorful amusement park rides - all working models, designed and built by youngsters.

Experts from Goddard Space Flight Center, the Lexus Racing Team and various engineering and architectural firms judged the projects. County technology education teachers volunteered their time to set up and operate the events.

Chuck Goldsborough, a race-car driver for Team Lexus, traveled from his home in Baltimore to judge the mini-drag races.

"I'm having a blast with this," he said just before two of the dragsters burst from the start line with a gust of carbon dioxide propellant that could be felt by those standing nearby.

Spectators crowded along the sides of the track to watch as the cars raced nearly the length of the gymnasium in less than 2 seconds.

Roy Rosnik, technology education teacher at Hammond Middle School and organizer of this year's event, said participants worked in teams to mimic real-life technology careers and problem solving. Team members played multiple roles in order to complete their projects.

They had to "design it ... build it ... test it ... and make improvements," Rosnik said.

"If you want a student to truly understand the abstract concepts that are taught in math and science - have them do it, have them make it work," he said.

The events were scattered throughout the classrooms of Wilde Lake High School. Contestants first had to meet with judges and give an oral presentation about their projects before finally demonstrating them in the gymnasium.

The team from Glenelg High School huddled in a hallway to make last-minute changes, discuss gear ratios and flip through the engineering details of their model tractor before heading upstairs to be judged.

Fourth-graders Alysia Cutchis and Allison Kotewicz from Clarksville Elementary School said they entered the Crane Crazy challenge because of the fun they'd had at the event last year.

Alysia was "a lot nervous" as she waited to see how much weight their crane could lift.

Allison's advice to future contenders? Be sure to test the machine ahead of time and then "just relax."

The four-member team from Hammond Elementary School came to the "Safe-Racer" contest with a vehicle they had named "Jaws" that featured bottle caps for wheels.

Their racer successfully protected "Eggbert," the raw-egg driver, from destruction as their car slammed into a wooden barrier.

Team member Michael Shaw, 8, said he had learned that "there's not just one best way" to build a car, and "there's nothing really impossible."

Juniors Kelly Fields and Zach Hollenbeck of the Mount Hebron High School architectural team waited outside the room where judges examined the scale-model house they had worked on since December.

Fields said they had been required to design a beach house for a woman who played the piano, had a cat and liked to ski.

Hollenbeck, who hopes to be an architect someday, said their project was a "good start" to his career.

Architect Fred Nastvogel of Columbia helped judge the model amusement park rides.

Nastvogel applauded the efforts of county technical education teachers for organizing the event.

He noted that the student contestants had designed projects that "go far beyond just filling in the questions at the end of the chapter."

School board member Virginia Charles, who joined Nastvogel in judging, agreed with his analysis. "Kids problem-solved to find answers to things that didn't work," Charles said, "and that's what we have to do in the real world."

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