Technology fair puts DODDS' European students to the test
Stars and Stripes June 1, 2003
RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — The golf balls were coming out of the tube and striking their target dead-on.
“I think we have the perfect machine,” concluded Justin Mackey, a junior at Ramstein American High School. “I don’t know how it can be much better.”
Strong words since it was just a test run. But the DODDS Technology Fair 2003 was on. Pupils from middle schools and high schools throughout Europe were given equal amounts of tools, materials and time. Then they had to make the perfect golf ball roller.
“There are any number of solutions,” said Bill Rimel, a technology teacher at Wiesbaden Middle School. “Their imagination is their guide.”
There weren’t just golf ball rollers to make. Circuit boards had to be built. Dragsters powered by carbon dioxide had to be raced. Structures had to be designed — both on the computer and with bare hands.
Kids were serious in the morning as they thought, planned and executed. Their results were put to the test in the afternoon.
Alex Shipp, a ninth-grader from Kaiserslautern High School, looked at his balsa wood structure. He and his teammate, Curtis Bell II, said they would have tweaked the structure’s design and reinforced its joints if they’d had more time.
But it was still a big success — the two boys used 1/8th-inch-thick sticks of the balsa wood to build a structure that weighed just one-quarter ounce but supported 55 pounds of steel plates.
“I’d give us an ‘A,’ ” Bell said. “It’s the lightest one in the competition.”
There were 172 pupils competing at the fair, which was being held for the 19th time. They came mostly from Germany but also from England, Iceland, Italy and Bahrain.
Twenty-two contests were waged using five rooms at the school.
“It’s knowing what the problem is and solving it with the resources they have available,” said Frank Pendzich, a technology teacher at Wiesbaden High School and coordinator of the tech fair. “It’s really what engineering is all about.”
“We had no clue — they just hand you [the instructions] and you go do it,” said Chris Eubanks, an 11th-grader from Bitburg High School, as he prepared to solder a piece onto the circuit board he was making. “I think it’s great. Back in the States, we didn’t get to do anything like this. It’s fun to get judged on what you’re doing.”
“It’s to have fun … but to win, too,” said Michael Walker, an eighth-grader from Wiesbaden Middle School. Michael and teammates C.J. Scott and Andrew Shields were in the race to make the best golf ball roller.
It turned out that Mackey’s confidence was warranted.
Mackey and teammates Jules Hoehn and Thomas Evans from Ramstein created a cannonlike device that shot the golf ball into the cup almost every time.
“We came up with a plan, voted on it and ran with it,” Hoehn said.
Their plan was based, Hoehn said, on the group’s previous experience making a device called a “potato gun.”
The potato gun has something to do with spray paint and a barbecue ignitor and presumably was not something the boys made in technology class.
It was suggested that the potato gun sounded borderline “illegal.” Hoehn said his mates preferred to think of it not as illegal, but “controversial.”
Young minds at work.