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Home team sees off Northland trio in Epro8 Challenge heat

SWIS Vegans, one of two home teams at the latest Year 7-8 Wellington heat of the Epro8 Challenge, were the clear winner at South Wellington Intermediate School yesterday evening.

Story and photos by Mark Cubey

The SWIS Vegans – Perry, Frances, Tulip and Jed – took first place in the Epro8 Challenge heat at their intermediate school

The SWIS Vegans team bested three of four teams from Northland School, who all edged past a Hataitai School team to complete a quartet going through to the EPro8 semi-finals in late November.

Three more groups from Hataitai School, and two from Kelburn School completed the challenge complement of 12 teams, each with four Year 7 or 8 students competing in the engineering and problem solving race for 150 minutes.

The heats have reached the half-way mark for the year. Around 30 contests are taking place across Years 5-6 and Years 7-8 in Wellington, the Hutt Valley, Kapiti and the Wairarapa. And in 2018, for the first time, Year 9 and 10 secondary students are competing, joining a nationwide cohort of over 9000 students from 800 schools from throughout New Zealand who have made the Epro8 Challenge a regular event on their school calendar.

Teams are required to choose from a range of multilevel challenges, solving practical problems in stages to build an increasingly complex range of large sized structures using tool-free components on offer at their mobile workstations.

These include aluminium rods, steel screws and wingnuts, and 3D-printed pulleys, gears, wheels and axles. Add plastic panels, lengths of rope, motors, electronic circuit boards, maths and engineering smarts and good teamwork, and the fun begins.

Strategy is required when choosing the challenges, while racing the clock to completion. Harder tasks accrue more points, and if a team persists with a particular challenge stream they will receive bonus points by taking the construction through the stages to completion. However, changing tack to attempt a range of easy challenges across various streams will mean disassembling previous constructions to free up enough components. And you don’t want to miss those regular bonuses for keeping tidy workspaces.

As with most competitions, it paid for contestants to be attentive during the briefing, read the hints in the challenge manual, and work effectively as a team, and yesterday’s competition turned out to be a close and high-scoring event.

Kelvin Thiele gives the teams their briefing

Each team started with a random first challenge enclosed in a ball. Teams were required to complete that challenge before they could progress, and could then choose to take that base challenge further, or switch to another stream.

The Elevator challenge was a tough one (build a solid structure to a requisite height, add four levels at measured intervals, construct an enclosed platform to carry a wooden mannequin to each floor, initially by manual pulley, then by geared motor power). It definitely hampered the Hataitai teams who were served it randomly first up, but perservered.

The Hataitai 3 team work on their elevator

Within about 40 minutes, lights start flashing from workstations with accompanying snatches of songs or memes (‘Uptown Funk’, ‘Gangnam Style’, ‘Annoying Orange’ etc) to summon one-man organiser Kelvin Thiele to check each team’s work, and if the task is complete, scan the relevant barcode and add points to the leader board.

The Thunderbolt challenge (tower with moveable conductor rod) and Rat Wheel (panel-built wheel, adding spokes and then powered whirling) were popular, though the one featuring maths and balls spatial estimation was only taken up by SWIS Vegans, as far as I could see (had to leave the event for 20 minutes on a dinner run).

The SWIS Vegans’ rat wheel construction

Parents and teachers were warned in advance that any direct communication with the teams about the challenges would result in a 50-point deduction; it’s important that mistakes are made by participants and learnt from. (And it was good to see that this year there was no Cheating Dad talking loudly to his neighbour, in earshot of his child’s team, about how a certain strategy was the really obvious path to follow…)

As the deadline loomed, and the pace accelerated, tension was palpable. The Hataitai 3 team were in fourth place at full time, but any team with a completed task gets to have that assessed and counted, and Northland 3, with their upgrade to the Rat Wheel, collected the points and moved up from fifth.

It didn’t matter. A group of Hataitai Year 8 boys went off into the night already planning to get a team together for their first year in 2019 at Rongotai, and like everyone else they were buzzing from a great evening’s challenging fun.

Organiser Kelvin Thiele is always on the lookout for sponsors who want to align themselves with local events that inspire and promote science and engineering.

The Epro8 Challenge is also available as a corporate or team building event, and it would be interesting to see adults attempt the challenges, and find out if they can do so with the same equanimity, good humour and teamwork displayed by last night’s young contestants.

If you want to get on board, email or phone 027 717 5536.