5 September 2022

Canberra school takes out NSW Science and Engineering Challenge

| Michelle Taylor
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Students in a hall

Emmaus Christian School’s winning team. Photo: Emmaus Christian School.

Emmaus Christian School has made Canberra history, producing the first ever ACT cohort to win the statewide NSW Science and Engineering Challenge.

The students and teachers involved are still riding on a high.

Pioneered by the University of Newcastle, the vision of the Science and Engineering Challenge is to inspire the next generation of innovators by providing students with tactile and creative challenges.

On challenge day, eight schools, each with eight teams of four students, compete across eight unique tasks. The top 24 teams from NSW/ ACT competed in Newcastle over three days.

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The challenges included creating a mechanical hand to pick things up and make signals; using a water turbine to produce the most energy from the water; and experimenting with the suspension of a Mars rover buggy, moving over surfaces and carrying a weight on its back. One involved sending coded messages back-and-forth using light. In another, students created an electrical grid board with wires to distribute electricity over a city.

The infamous ‘bridge challenge’ took place over an entire day. Each school’s completed bridge was hoisted onto a testing rig. Testers ran a weighted cart over it, gradually increasing the weights until the bridge succumbed to the pressure.

Building the bridge and getting something over it. Photo: Emmaus Christian School.

Science teacher Peter Willis says that at the state level, students know what challenges are coming but they’re assigned randomly, so the school’s teams need to be knowledgeable across the breadth of the tasks.

“The leaders of each team played a big role in mentoring the younger team members. We have a combination of students from years 7 to 10 in each of our teams. Key for each team of four is getting in the right headspace,” Peter said.

“Knowing that they have the skills, the knowledge and that they have supportive team members around them who they can rely upon under pressure.”

Four students giving a thumbs up

Teamwork makes the dream work! Photo: Emmaus Christian School.

Year 9 student and team leader Krestian, says, “The most stressful part was the time pressure. At the start of the turbine challenge, we were taking a lot of time measuring. When we realised that we only had 20 minutes left, we eyeballed the rest of it, and it somehow worked out!”

Peter Willis says a teaching highlight was how the students came together around a unified goal, bonding as they experienced the challenges.

“Seeing them stepping up as leaders, problem-solving and working really well together under quite a lot of pressure. The quality of their attention to detail was impressive. Our teams were just working like a well-oiled machine. They had some amazing group dynamics.”

Students wih certificates

Winning at the state level. On to the nationals! Photo: Emmaus Christian School.

Emmaus Christian School’s cohort will compete against the champion teams from the other states together with a wildcard entry from the Bendigo region. Whatever twists and turns the final challenges will throw at them, the students will continue to prepare as methodically as they have all along. And for them, it is just every bit as much about the journey as it is about the actual competition.

Year 10 mentor Mitch says, “The whole experience has been pretty great so far; putting everything else aside and just hanging out with the team.”

Fellow mentor Joanne agrees.

“We have achieved so much already, and I can’t wait to enjoy the next part of the adventure at the National Finals.”

The team is sponsored by CEA Technologies, a Fyshwick-based defence technology company. The company specialises in the design, development and manufacture of advanced antenna, radar and communications solutions for civil and military systems in land, maritime and air environments.

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