Penn Yan students take on the challenge of Science Throwdown

John Christensen
Students construct insulation sleeves out of renewable materials in a “Science Throwdown” Challenge.

Penn Yan Academy has continued last year’s terrifically popular “Science Throwdown 2011,” an after school competition where teams of no more than three compete in an elimination-style tournament consisting of various science based challenges. The contest ran from 4-8 p.m. Feb. 15, March 1 and March 3. All competitors got a T-shirt for competing, and enjoyed pizza served each night.

Multiple prizes were awarded.

Conceived last year by teacher Ann Paige as a non-traditional alternative to a conventional science fair, the throwdown emphasizes active problem solving.

“We were seeing a lot of reliance on the internet or parent involvement in science projects. This has the kids working on the science directly and together,” said Paige.

Mentor teacher Brenda Travis spoke of the throwdown as part of the 21st Century Skills Movement to engage students in problem solving emphasizing creativity, innovation, critical thinking, communication and collaboration.

This year, 17 teams entered the competition, up from 14 last year. The challenges were three short tasks in the first elimination, and two extended tasks on each of the two ensuing nights including;

• Analysis of 11 unknown chemicals

• Building a bridge from toothpicks and mini-marshmallows

• Propelling a rocket with the best ratio of hydrogen and oxygen gas

• Construction of a barge to be pulled or pushed by a tug boat

• Make effective insulation from renewable materials

• Program a “Boe-bot” to navigate an obstacle course

The points scored by the teams’ successes allowed 12 teams to go on to the next round, and five to the finals. The champion will be announced at the academic awards ceremony in June.

This extra curricular activity carries no academic credit for the students, nor compensation for the teachers. It is done purely as a voluntary enrichment exercise to encourage students to find the fun in scientific inquiry and cooperative problem solving.

It was also praised by Travis as interdisciplinary, intergenerational and inclusive.

“Many of the teams have kids from different grade levels. What’s really neat is that a lot of them aren’t necessarily the kids you’d expect to take part in something like this,” she said.

The volunteer teachers for the 2011 Science Throwdown were Ann Paige, Nate Kramer, Walt Nasaranko, and Judy Willing from the Science Dept., Brett Darrow and Dan Marshall from the Math Dept., Jon Griglio from the Technology Dept., and Aaron Mumby from Library and Media.

Sponsors included the Penn Yan Moose Lodge 2030, the 3-D Living Club, the Penn Yan Academy Science Dept., and the Penn Yan Academy PTG.