APS News Release

Sixth Graders Place Third in World Creative Engineering Competition

A group of sixth graders from Swanson and Dorothy Hamm middle schools placed third in the world at the Odyssey of the Mind World Finals 2020.

The group of seven girls included Zella Mantler, Nora Johnson, Molly Ryan, Katie Martin, Kaitlyn Nowinski, Emma Cai, and Kaitlin Madison — took third place in Division II, Problem 2, which is the “technical” problem. The girls engineered three different machines to transport three different kinds of objects five feet, utilizing technology including a retrofitted exercise bike that powered a conveyor belt made with rolling pins and pool noodles, a water wheel that pulled a zip line basket, and a robot courier vehicle that used an ultrasound sensor and Arduino program to start and stop motorized wheels.

Their solution included a play that told a wild west Cinderella story, complete with a costume that transformed Cinderella’s ragged clothes into a ball gown when Cinderella spun around. The students also composed an original song that was performed with a guitar and other instruments made by the team to play notes and add percussion to their musical composition.

The students worked for seven months on their problem solution before normal team meetings were disrupted by the COVID-19 epidemic, forcing them to take final preparations either online or via physically distanced meetings after the second week of March. In May, the team participated in a virtual problem-solving competition online as part of their scoring. They were given 25 minutes to solve a “spontaneous” problem as part of the competition, which involved more than five dozen teams from all over the world and United States.

Many of the team members have participated in Odyssey of the Mind since elementary school, and placing in the top three at the international event was a longtime goal.

The team was coached by parents Christina Headrick, Emer Johnson, and Deb Ryan, with a great deal of support from all the parents who ferried team members to meetings, helped drive the girls around to pick up recycled materials and trash, and supported the team’s efforts to take extra after-school classes and learn new skills to apply to their project solution. The team had to find broken things and trash to build their machines, because they were not able to spend more than $145 on their solution.

One of their competition videos, P2 D2 34210 Swanson Middle World Finals Virtual Video, can be viewed online. The video captures where the team was before social distancing went into place; they had planned to spend 10 more weeks enhancing their solution and performance, but was able to record this prior to local schools being shut down.

The team has begun brainstorming creative themes and engineering ideas for next year’s problem via online ZOOM meetings.