Pinewood Shines at Tech Challenge


The Tech Challenge is California's biggest design engineering competition. This year, over 2,500 students participated in roughly six hundred teams. Teams compete in divisions broken up by grade level, with roughly 125 teams in each division. 

Each year, the students are given a different challenge. This year's competition theme, Drop and Dash, had the students design a device that would be dropped from a height of ten feet, land in a designated area while withstanding the impact of the fall, and then deliver a payload (one U.S. penny) up a ten-foot long incline ramp to a six-inch zone at the end. The device couldn't be larger than a twenty-four-inch cube, weigh more than three pounds, or use batteries. In addition to building the device, the students needed to create an extensive engineering journal of their design process along the way, present it to multiple teams of judges, sit through a Q&A session that ensure all members of the team are knowledgeable, and, lastly, showcase their device on the rig at the Tech Museum in front of thousands of spectators. At the end of the process, there are only a handful of awards given to teams that really stand out in one or all areas. 

Utilizing our new iMaginarium Maker Space at Middle Campus, Mr. Brusco dedicated his Thursday Maker Club to the Tech Challenge from January through the end of April. There were two teams composed of 6th graders and two teams composed of 4th and 5th graders. Starting in January, students began thinking through the process and came up with preliminary designs. Most teams built numerous prototypes that included elements such as grappling hooks, air rockets, slingshots, catapults, car launchers, spring-loaded projectiles, and more. Many devices had to be completely rebuilt and reconsidered time and time again. Students worked with cardboard, PVC, wood, plastic, and metal to build their devices. Our Pinewood facilities team built a test ramp so that the teams could practice during club time. In addition to time spent in the club, each team had a parent advisor who coordinated off-campus work and meetings at the Tech Museum to run trials. Not only did our teams need their math and science knowledge to build a device to achieve the objective, they needed to put their language arts and public speaking skills to work in order to produce a detailed engineering journal and survive a daunting interview with judging panels. 

All of our teams performed very well and learned tremendously from the experience. While our 6th-grade teams didn't win any individual awards, the judges were very impressed with the ability of our 6th-grade girls team, Pinewood Avocados, to pivot at the last minute and reconstruct a new device based on a new concept after their prior design didn't yield the necessary results. The judges were also extremely impressed with our 6th-grade boys team's 3D printing of much of their device based on their own custom designs. Our 4th- and 5th-grade teams both walked away with top honors for the day. Our Pinewood Hedgehogs team, which also switched their concept in the final weeks, received the Outstanding Device Performance award, one of only three given in their category. Our second 4th- and 5th-grade team, Pinewood iMagineers received the Judges' Inspiration Award, of which there was only one given. This award was chosen by the judges and the founder of the Tech Challenge and was given to the team that most inspired the judges on their overall performance of the device, journal, teamwork, and resiliency. During the award ceremony, the judges specifically commented on how well the iMagineers' device performed and how they noticed the team attending multiple test trials to make changes to their design. As part of this award, all members of this team were given a commemorative plaque and will be given a special tour of Nutanix (an event sponsor). Of the 125+ teams that competed in the 4th- and 5th-grade category, Pinewood was the only school that had more than one team win awards!

What's in store for 2019? The theme for next year's Tech Challenge will have something to do with Hovercrafts. We'll know the specifics in October. No doubt our Pinewood iMagineers and Hedgehogs will be back to defend Middle Campus's status as home to some of the Bay Area's best budding engineers.


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