STUDENTS PUT SCIENCE SKILLS TO THE TEST
Aspiring scientists from Macon County Schools got a chance to show off their skills in a competitive environment in Asheville last weekend.
At Charles D. Owen High School, Mountain View Intermediate School students participated in a Science Olympiad competition. Teams from 13 different schools across Western North Carolina assembled to compete in 19 different events testing their knowledge of physics, astronomy, building principles, the scientific method and other fields of study. The students had been preparing for the competition for months, and they had a blast sharpening their skills alongside their friends.
“It has been the longest and most wonderful journey,” said student Maggie Shields.
Mountain View’s team enjoyed a great showing at the Science Olympiad. Their final score of 74 points was enough to rank second out of the 13 teams present, falling only behind Ira B. Jones Elementary School of Asheville by a two-point margin. Carrying that high rank was a first-place finish in the Body Builders event, which tests students’ knowledge of the major systems of the human body, as well as top three finishes in seven other events.
Teacher and coach Samantha Bullis was thrilled with the results. She was especially proud of the students for sinking several months of practice into their events, and was thankful for the continued support of parent volunteers and the school that made competing possible.
“Every student worked so hard,” Bullis said. “We’ve been practicing for two hours nearly every Monday since November.”
Meanwhile, at the University of North Carolina at Asheville, older students were getting pumped up for their FIRST (For the Inspiration of Robotics, Science and Technology) Competition. A total of 70 teams from all over North Carolina attended the tournament, and Macon County was represented by a collection of engineering students from Franklin High School and Macon County Early College, dubbed the Macon Bots FRC.
Delving into some more advanced science, competitors in this tournament had spent months assembling functioning robots that had to move cargo, attach hatches to carrying containers and maneuver in a logistical environment, much like similar robots would have to do for real professional work.
Team member Oliver Kimsey said the process of putting together a machine that sophisticated is long and delicate. Malfunctions can and do happen constantly, even up to the moments before competitive events begin, but being a part of the robotics club has given Kimsey and his teammates a chance to grow as builders and adapt to fast-coming changes.
“We’ve had about four changes just since we got here this morning,” Kimsey said. “The whole thing is a process. … It’s pretty easy if you actually ask questions and try to learn from people.”
Unfortunately, the Macon Bots were hit with some technical bugs during the competition. An accident with their robot’s claw after an event began left the part unresponsive and the robot unable to manipulate the hatch it had to move. The team went on to place 53rd of the 70 teams present, although it should be noted that they were one of the youngest clubs present, having only competed for the first time last year.
Despite a disappointing final score, Macon County STEM coordinator Jennifer Love admired the determination the team had shown in getting the project ready. She knew they were in for an uphill battle with teams that had more years of experience and more money to spend, but she was impressed with the progress that her students had made as scientists who could build and maintain the machine on their own.
“They have to go through and work the problem and figure out what’s going on,” Love said of the tournament’s demands. “I can’t help them. It’s just our students doing everything.”