Creative car, stomach smarts yield a win at physics contest

South Carroll High tops field, heads to state final

April 18, 2004|By Ellie Baublitz | Ellie Baublitz,SUN STAFF

A bunch of whiz kids from South Carroll High School built a better mousetrap-powered car; now they're beating a path to Laurel.

With a Rube Goldberg minicar sporting wheels of gray weather stripping, the team of South Carroll ninth-graders edged out groups from five other high schools to win the county championship and a spot at the Maryland Mathematics Engineering Science Achievement contest this month.

South Carroll earned a top-three finish in five of six categories among the six high schools that competed in the MESA county contest Friday at Westminster High School.

"These are very difficult projects," said Robert Foor-Hogue, South Carroll science teacher and team coach. "This is definitely some of the cream of the crop [of students]. It's fun and a good program. This is the best kind of learning."

Sponsored by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, MESA is a structured program designed to prepare students for careers in math, science, engineering and technology.

Friday's competition was Carroll's first regional contest in the 26-year-old program. Six of the seven county high schools sent teams of seven to 15 ninth-grade students who had created projects.

The student teams vied for honors in such areas as building a paper airplane, demonstrating gastrointestinal physiology, constructing a windmill and assembling a multipurpose vehicle.

"We encourage them to participate in as many events as they can, because they win points for each category, in addition to placement points," said Nora Day, MESA director.

Paper airplanes

Most projects had to be prepared in advance, except for the paper airplane. Students had a set time during the competition in which to make their plane.

Then the fun began in earnest. Some planes smashed into the gym wall. One paper glider sailed over a room divider into a basketball court where other students were having class.

Planes were judged on flying distance and how long they stayed aloft. But the students also had to create an academic display about flying and give an oral presentation about their plane.

Failed attempts

Perhaps the most fun came from the homemade multipurpose vehicles - powered, in this case, by a mousetrap.

"The vehicles have three performance trials - for speed on a 10-meter run, accuracy on a 5-meter track where they have to stop within a certain space, and a power task where they go up an incline," said Mary Weller, Westminster High's physics teacher.

North Carroll High's team created a car using four record albums, a wood platform, string and a coat hanger.

Unfortunately, during its tests, the album wheels were too big to make it up the 30-degree grade. The car went crooked and overshot the accuracy field, and it fell short in the speed trial.

`We'll make it work'

For the windmill project, students had to make a windmill whose blades had to move fast enough to pull 100 pennies 50 centimeters off the floor using a string. A small table fan was used to create the air to power the windmills.

South Carroll's first try was a failure, to Foor-Hogue's surprise. "We had that thing working perfect," he said. "We'll make it work."

The students' second attempt earned them third place.

South Carroll won first place in the complex gastrointestinal physiology project, where the team's working mockup of internal organs and digestive system impressed the judges, as did its answers to questions.

"They related the structure to the function, they had detail - for instance, they used a sponge for the liver, which absorbs - and they did a nice job on the questions," said Donald Bell, New Windsor Middle School principal, who was a judge.

Impressive imagination

School Superintendent Charles I. Ecker also was impressed by the students' work.

"The kids are great," he said. "They really show imagination and creativity."

Brad Yohe, county schools supervisor of science, whose office coordinated the competition, said Westminster and Winters Mill high schools had pilot MESA projects last year, which expanded to all the high schools this year.

The program involves a MESA club that meets after school for students to work on their projects. Professionals from various fields are brought in to judge the competition, he said.

South Carroll will go to the state competition April 30 at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab in Laurel.

Contest results

Banner: Westminster, first; South Carroll, second; Winters Mill, third.

Paper Airplane: South Carroll, first; Century, second; Francis Scott Key, third.

Gastrointestinal Physiology: South Carroll, first; North Carroll, second; Westminster, third.

Effective Communications: Westminster, first.

Windmill: Century, first; Westminster, second; South Carroll, third.

Multipurpose Vehicle: South Carroll, first; Westminster, second.

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