School students have fun solving scientific problems

Published 29 March 2011

challengeMore than 440 school students entered enthusiastically into the fun of scientific problem solving when they took part in the annual Highlands Science and Engineering Challenge at the University of New England last week.

They responded creatively to a range of challenges – including the construction of weight-bearing bridges, remotely controlled airships, and receivers for an electronic signal.

During the process they gained an insight into scientific principles, the effectiveness of teamwork, and the satisfaction that might be gained from a career in science or engineering.

But the immediate aim of the organisers was that the students should all have fun.

The Discovery Day on Tuesday 22 March attracted more than 200 students from seven Armidale primary schools, and the Challenge for secondary (Year 10) students on the following day brought 240 participants from six Armidale high schools and central schools in Uralla, Walcha and Guyra. Primary and secondary students took part in exactly the same activities – the only difference being that the Discovery Day was non-competitive, while the teams of high-school students were competing for a place in the Northern NSW Super Challenge in Newcastle in August.

The winning team came from The Armidale School, with teams from Armidale High School and Walcha Central School coming second and third.

This is the ninth year that UNE has staged events in the “Challenge” series. Supported by UNE’s School of Science and Technology and School of Environmental and Rural Science, the event is organised by committee of local Rotarians and UNE representatives, and assisted by the University of Newcastle, which supplies much of the equipment for the activities.

“Each year we see different solutions to the problems,” said David Steller from Armidale Central Rotary Club. “The students never cease to amaze us.”

While the emphasis for the primary students is simply on having fun in science-based activities, the Year 10 students have reached a stage where they will have to make decisions about the subjects they will undertake in Years 11 and 12. “We want to encourage these students to think about careers in science, so that when they come to choose electives they will consider doing some high-level science subjects,” said Dr Peter Lye, A Senior Lecturer in Chemistry at UNE. “Without this background, students can have difficulty with science programs at university level.”