Aspiring engineers from Azle win chain reaction challenge. ‘I can do this for a living?’

Azle Junior High students were among the overall winners in the inaugural Garver Chain Reaction Challenge that featured teams from 100 schools over an 11-state area.
Azle Junior High students were among the overall winners in the inaugural Garver Chain Reaction Challenge that featured teams from 100 schools over an 11-state area. Courtesy

Education is often a part of a chain reaction of learning events.

And one particular group of students from Azle Junior High (AJH) knows a thing or two about chain reactions. The group of more than 40 seventh- and eighth-graders was recently named among the best in the nation in the first Garver Chain Reaction Challenge.

The competition selected 100 schools from an 11-state area to compete. From those, AJH was named one of nine overall winners.

The competition was in honor of engineering firm Garver’s 100th anniversary. The schools, all from the area where Garver has its footprint, were given chain reaction STEM (Science Technology, Engineering, Math) kits and challenged to create a Rube Goldberg-style machine that accomplishes a menial task in a complicated way.

“There’s a shortage of engineers nationwide, and these kids are so inspiring,” Garver spokesperson Anita Smith said. “It was really tough to decide which schools would win.”

Winning schools received $1,000 for their STEM programs.

Working with a budget of $300 given each team, AJH began its project by testing the old tale of Mentos being put into a soft drink and watch the reaction. In fact, it foamed and cola fired into the air like a miniature volcano erupting.

They followed with a chain reaction that included a rolling ball knocking over an object that led to another object falling, onto some dominoes, etc.

Before anything was done on the project, all items, including a blueprint, had to be approved by their sponsor, pre-engineering class teacher Kriss Meeker.

“They didn’t just go in and grab things. They had to think this through,” she said.

Meeker said the team actually took the best of six classes and created their project.

“It ended up being a fluke thing,” she said. “I liked parts of this one, parts of that one. I had 46 kids in one room working together. They knew what their part was, but they had to figure out how to connect it to other parts.

“It was fun to see them all work together and make it successful.”

Meeker prides herself on using as many recycled materials in her classes as she can find, and so it was with this project. This includes packing materials, pipe cleaners, rubber bands, and some old blocks from a math class.

“When somebody has something they don’t want or need, they bring it to me,” she said with a chuckle.

Once finished, a video of their project was sent to Garver to be judged.

“The creativity and ingenuity that we saw was incredible, and it was hard for our judges to narrow it down,” Garver Chief Operating Officer Michael Graves said. “Our hope was to inspire students to explore engineering as a career, but what we didn’t anticipate was how much they would inspire us.”

Meeker said the project was more than award-winning, it was also eye-opening for her students.

“It’s fun for the kids to see what the possibilities are. They realize, ‘Oh, I can do this for a living?’” she said.

Best of all, she said, is the students did it all themselves. She was there to supervise.

“This was strictly my kids,” she said. “I step back. I want my kids to do it; even if they make a mistake, they are going to learn. I tell them, ‘Keep working, you’ll figure it out.’

“These kids are a prime example of that. I’m so proud of them.”

Other winners in the contest are Butterfield Trail Middle School, Van Buren, Arkansas; Henderson Middle School, Little Rock; Irving Middle School, Norman, Oklahoma; Kitty Hawk Middle School, Universal City, Texas; Liberty Middle School, Madison, Alabama; Pat Henry Elementary School, Lawton, Oklahoma; Russellville Middle School, Russellville, Arkansas; and Wallace Elementary School, Dallas.

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