Volunteering at the Design Challenge

By Leigh Spencer

On Saturday, March 28, several members of SLFT volunteered at the Washington Pavilion for the annual Design Challenge.  This engineering event, for students ages pre-K through 12th grade, has both an at-home element and an on-site competition.  The theme this year was “Survival: Stranded on the South Dakota Prairie” and the challenges included designing a water filtration device with what they had in their backpacks and addressing the needs of their team as they waited for rescue.

Volunteers from our group helped with judging the event (both at-home and on-site), resetting the on-site challenge, and event registration.  I assisted with judging the on-site challenge for high school and middle school teams.  For the on-site challenge, the teams were given a crate with supplies (similar to what was in their fictional “backpack” for the water filtration challenge) and a list of survival tasks to complete within a specified amount of time.  All the teams had to construct a shelter for their team.  They also had randomly selected additional tasks, which included treating a broken arm, collecting water, or identifying edible plants.  The younger students had variations, with fewer possible tasks, and the youngest groups just had to build a shelter.

The best part for the spectators (and the judges, in my opinion) was the “wild card” that the students had to address during their time.  Each team was assigned one of three possibilities: a mountain lion in their area, a snake near their “camp” or a prairie wildfire.  Most of the teams handled their challenges well, although I personally wasn’t too thrilled that the students found it necessary to kill the snake.  (Couldn’t they just move it?)  Watching the teenage boys who were resetting the challenge dress up as mountain lions was definitely a highlight.

As a judge, I had a set score sheet that made my task fairly easy – just circle if they completed each task or not.  It was fun watching the different approaches each team took to problem solving.  The teamwork was great, too; a few teams had clear leaders who took charge, but mostly they planned as a team and worked as a team.  The high school teams were quiet and serious.  The middle school teams were serious, too, but seemed to be having fun at the same time.

It was a very fun event, and I’m glad the Pavilion asked us to come and help.  If the opportunity is available next year, I’ll sign up and I think you should, too!


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