School students’ creative response to engineering challenge

Published 24 March 2010

scienceconstructAbout four hundred school students have been visiting the University of New England over the past two days to experiment with the design, construction and operation of working models – including cars, aircraft, and catapults.

Secondary students from Armidale, Uralla, Guyra, Walcha and Dorrigo competed, today, in the Highlands Science and Engineering Challenge, and primary students from Armidale schools travelled to UNE yesterday for the Highlands Discovery Day.

Working in teams, the students soon had Lazenby Hall and the UNE Bistro alive with working hovercraft, balloon-driven cars, airships, and much more. (The catapults were built and tested outdoors.) They not only designed and built the models, but competed with them under handicap conditions that they had to take into consideration in their design.

“They’re given a problem and the materials to solve it,” said Dr Peter Lye, the coordinator of the event at UNE. “The really important thing they learn is that there’s not just one solution to the problem.”

“They can experiment with a number of different designs and come up with the optimum solution,” added David Steller, from Armidale Central Rotary Club, who chairs the organising committee for the UNE “Challenge” events.

The “Discovery Day” for primary-school students comprises the same activities as the “Challenge” itself, but without the competitive element.

Since its beginning 10 years ago, the Science and Engineering Challenge has grown into a national organisation that this year will engage 23,000 students from about 700 schools around Australia in science-based activities designed to show them that science can be enjoyable and rewarding.

The winning school in the Highlands Challenge was O’Connor Catholic College, with Dorrigo High School in second place and PLC Armidale third. Winning teams from the regional competitions will travel to Newcastle for the “Super Challenge” in August, and the State winners will go to Gosford for the national “Grand Challenge” in October.

This is the eighth year that UNE has staged “Challenge” events, and this week about 15 UNE staff members and six UNE students – together with a number of Rotarians – have assisted with the activities. UNE’s School of Science and Technology and School of Environmental and Rural Science provide support for the “Challenge” events at UNE, and the major national sponsors are the Australian Constructors Association and the Australian Government. Rotary plays a pivotal role in organising “Challenge” events around the nation.

Clicking on the image of airship construction displayed here reveals a photograph of students preparing their completed airship for flight.