FACTORYVILLE — A group of sixth graders from Lackawanna Trail Elementary Center were recently recognized as the best in the state of Pennsylvania.
The team of Emma Oswald, Faith Dewey, Katie Carpenter and Maggie Martin placed first in the sixth through eighth grade division of the 2016 K’NEX State Competition on May 13 at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology.
Forty-six teams, consisting of the first-place finishers in each division (grades 4-5 and grades 6-8) from the regional contests held by each Intermediate Unit (IU) across the state, earned the right to compete.
The team tied for second place in a competition at the school in February and finished first at a regional competition at Johnson College in March to advance to states.
The winning group from Trail was the youngest team in their age group, which consisted of 23 schools. Each girl received a K’NEX kit, trophy and certificate. The school also received an $800 prize.
“The girls presented themselves very well,”coach Gail Franko said. “We were speechless to think a small school could win something like this, but the girls gave their best effort and deserved it.”
Founded in 1992, K’NEX Brands was established to make and sell integrated construction systems for children. Per the organization’s website, K’NEX encourages youngsters to “imagine, build and play.”
This year’s STEM design challenge was to create an eco-friendly building that was at least one meter tall and could hold weight. During the presentation, the team had to show the strength of their building and address how the building is environmentally friendly. Additionally, teams competing in the sixth through eighth grade division had to present a budget of their project. Each K’Nex piece was given a price and teams received an inventory sheet.
The girls estimate they spent 72 hours on the project between preparation time and the three competitions.
Oswald felt the most difficult aspect of the competition was staying within the 1,400-piece limit for the project.
Each team member had their own unique responsibilities for their project, called Plants R’ Us. It’s a greenhouse that uses aquaponics, or waste produced by fish in a tank to supply nutrients for plants grown hydroponically. The greenhouse also included a solar-powered motor that opened and closed the top of the structure so that the ecosystem could get sunlight during the daylight hours.
“We all had our own jobs,” Dewey said. “Emma was the store manager, Katie was the fisherman, Maggie was the gardener and I was the beekeeper.”
Martin enjoyed looking over the variety of projects the different teams completed.
“I liked seeing everyone else’s buildings, that was really cool,” she said.
According to Franko, all of the teams were cordial through the state contest.
“Everybody was so friendly,” she said. “Even though it was a competitive atmosphere, everyone was so supportive.”
There were strict rules that had to be followed in order to claim the top prize.
“They had to build their project in two hours at the state level,” Franko said. “They couldn’t come in with any piece connected or they would be disqualified. They also had give a presentation on their project in two minutes.”
The team was able to complete the task in about 45 minutes and was able to utilize the free time to their benefit.
“We used the extra time we had to practice our presentation,” Carpenter said.
According to Franko, donations raised through the school community made it possible for all the teams to participate in the competitions.
“We had to ask for donations,” Franko said. “The families came together and raised nearly $700 in 10 days so every student could take part in the in-house competition.”
Reach Robert Tomkavage at 570-704-3941 or on Twitter @rtomkavage.