Months of hard work paid off for the members of the Technology Student Association at DeWitt Middle School when they finished first in nine out of twelve events at the New York State Conference on March 11, qualifying them for the national conference in Nashville this summer.
During the conferences, the DeWitt team, which is made up of 26 students who had to apply to become members, competes in a variety of events, such as building a catapult, working on construction challenges, and designing their own video game. The team’s entries are scored based on the performance of their design in the competition and their written portfolio that they create throughout the design process.
Each student on the team competes in multiple events, and, in many cases, there are multiple groups from the DeWitt team competing in the same competitions. This was the case for the catapult challenge at the state conference, where groups had to design a catapult that launched as many golf balls at a target as accurately and quickly as possible, and in which groups from the DeWitt team took home first, second, and third place.
According to eighth graders Isabelle Zanen and Katrina Jander, who both were a part of the group who finished in first place, the catapult took two or three sessions of two hours each to design, and another two six hour-long sessions to build using PVC piping.
Despite their first place finish, the group is not satisfied with the design, and will look to improve the accuracy and reload time of their catapult for the national conference.
For most of the challenges, the design process is very lengthy, mainly due to the complexity of the rules that outline the requirements of the designs.
Aidan Foley, an eighth grade student, said it took him and his teammates about two months to program their entry into the video game design competition, which ultimately did not even qualify to win a prize due to a rule violation. This setback will not stop these students though, as they plan on improving their game and submitting it in the national conference in June.
David Buchner, a technology teacher at DeWitt and one of the faculty advisors for the team, loves letting the students work through the designs and improvements themselves.
“It’s great to see the kids struggle, then realize after months that they’ve not only solved the problem, but they have some level of expertise,” said Buchner.
One of the most attractive parts of being on the team for many students is the wide variety of events there are to compete in. “It’s fun how you can pick the events that you like,” said Rohil Khatkhate, an eighth grader on the team. “It gives you a lot of creative freedom.”
Then there are the conferences themselves; the culmination of months of hard work and problem solving. Although many of the students very much enjoy putting their designs to the test, nerves do tend to run high during the events.
“The competitions get so tense when you’re waiting for the results,” said Jacob Yoon, a seventh grader who is in his first year on the team.
The most important competition of them all, the national conference, takes place in Nashville from June 28 to July 2. The team relies on funds from corporate sponsors and the Ithaca School District, as well as donations to the Ithaca STEM Advocates, to afford the travel and accommodation costs for the trip. This year will mark the 17th time that the DeWitt team will go the national conference in the 25 years that Buchner has been the faculty advisor.
Although doing well at the conferences is the team’s ultimate goal, it is not the most important thing.
“The best part is developing relationships with the kids,” said Buchner. “Those last a long time.”