The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

March 11, 2014

Students mix toys, science during CSIU competition

By Ashley Wislock
The Daily Item

— MONTANDON — From rescue vehicles to zombie plowers, the people-movers created by the 13 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade teams in the K’NEX STEM Design Challenge on Monday were feats of imagination and engineering.

Fifty-two students from six school districts competed at the Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit, hoping to qualify for the state competition, to be held in May. STEM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering and math.

A competition for fourth- and fifth-graders was held last week.

The students, from gifted programs in the Mount Carmel, Southern Columbia, Midd-West, Danville, Central Columbia and Benton school districts, were required to build energy-efficient “people-movers,” which had to overcome at least one obstacle, said Christine Mitcheltree, a curriculum specialist with the CSIU.

“That could be hills, curves or landforms,” she said. “Last week, some went through sand or dirt.”

The teams of four also had to come up with a narrative and two-minute presentation to go with their vehicle, which were built with as many as 1,400 K’NEX pieces during a two-hour competition.

The presentations and vehicles were then judged by a panel that included engineers from Metso Minerals in Danville and Thermal Product Solutions in New Columbia and a CSIU official.

Teams from Southern Columbia took first and second place in Monday’s competition, while a Central Columbia team won the fourth- and fifth-grade competition and a team from Midd-West came in second.

The goal is to get students thinking about a wide range of topics, said Amanda Coleman, a CSIU public relations specialist.

“It involves the STEM initiative, but also goes beyond that,” she said. “It’s learning how to do public speaking and gain the experience of what a real engineer does.”

Midd-West sent two teams, from sixth and seventh grades. The students have a wide variety of interests that fit with the competition, said Melissa Brauer-Stuck, Midd-West’s K-6 gifted teacher.

Stuck was also the adviser for the fourth-grade team, which finished second and is now headed to states.

“They were so excited,” she said. “It was priceless to see their faces.”

While many teams created practical vehicles, a team of eighth-graders from Southern Columbia decided to not only present a way to plow snow, but also zombies, in the event of an invasion.

“With all the snow they wanted to create something to plow that,” said teacher Victoria Kozlek. “They started joking among themselves that this would also be good for plowing zombies ... A few weeks later, they asked if it would be OK.”

The students painted Lego people green to resemble zombies, Kozlek said.

While that team did not place, Southern’s other teams, which created a cable car system and a weight-hauling tractor placed first and second, respectively.

Getting to use K’NEX as part of a learning activity was fun and nostalgic, said Mount Carmel eighth-grade student Ben McFadden.

“It feels like I’m a little kid again,” he said.