Weight and see! Barre N3RD5 put science, fundraising to the test
Jeb Wallace-Brodeur / Staff Photo Barre City Elementary School's Destination Imagination team works on their project Wedenesday after qualifying for the world finals in Knoxville, Tenn. The sixth graders will compete with 15,000 other students from around the world at the event. From left are Brianna Storti, Kyle Harris, Samantha Owen, Jojo Schmidt, Kyle Proteau and Ricky Little.
BARRE — How much weight can a cube constructed of two squares of cardboard, some Super Glue, a strip of designer Duct Tape, and 16 store-bought chopsticks support?
A six-pack of bright young sixth-graders from Barre City Elementary and Middle School will tell you they just don’t know, but they sure would like to find out whether they can only raise the $8,400 they’ll need to travel to Tennessee next month.
The “N3RD5”, (that’s what they call themselves) have earned the right to participate in Destination Imagination’s Global Finals at the University of Tennessee from May 22-26. Don’t put it past Kyle Proteau, Sam Owen, Kyle Harris, Brianna Storti, Jojo Schmidt and Ricky Little, because they’ve solved tougher problems, and if you want evidence then “Exhibit A” would have to be the lightweight structure they devised for “Twist-O-Rama” — one of the seven open-ended challenges that are part of what is billed as “the largest creative thinking and problem solving competition in the world.”
Carefully crafted by the students, the skeletal cube tipped the scale at a scant 5.5 ounces, but managed to support a whopping 665 pounds despite repeated “torque-inducing impacts” at last month’s state finals in Burlington.
It didn’t snap, it didn’t crack, it didn’t buckle or crumble, and while one of the chopsticks popped off at the end, it certainly wasn’t crushed beneath Olympic-style weights like the rest of its competition at Burlington High School on March 23.
It was a “jaw-dropping” display, according to Ryan Dudley, the BCEMS middle school teacher who coached the N3RD5, but claimed no credit for the team’s creation, which is roughly the size of a small toaster.
“This was all them,” Dudley said of his students. “All I did was show them pictures of bridges.”
Dudley, who had to sign a “non-intervention agreement” as part of the competition, said his students took it from there. They noticed triangles — “one of the strongest geometric shapes” — in several of the bridge pictures. They gravitated toward bamboo and decided to put chopsticks on a short shopping list that included Super Glue and a roll of white tape embellished with black handlebar moustaches.
“They wanted it to just look silly,” Dudley said, explaining the team’s decision to bypass the familiar but “boring grey” tape in favor of a roll featuring the kind of moustache a circus strongman might sport.
Although the team’s eight minutes in the Burlington spotlight didn’t go according to script last month, Dudley said it was more than enough and it sure was memorable.
First, the N3RD5 ran out of time.
Then, to everyone’s surprise — Dudley’s included — they ran out of weight.
“I had no idea it was going to hold that much weight,” Dudley said of the improbable chopstick cube that was still standing beneath a stack of weights that was roughly five feet high.
“It was really impressive,” Dudley added.
However, it wasn’t quite what the N3RD5 had planned. The team prepared, but never performed a skit with a “plot twist” that was part of their overall score because time expired.
The plan, according to Dudley, was to quickly load weight on to the cube until it failed and then pivot into the skit.
“They thought they’d be adding a little bit of weight and then it would fall apart and they would have time to do their skit,” he said. They had no idea they’d just keep adding weight and adding weight and adding weight.”
According to Dudley, the cube, which was never tested, was supporting 505 pounds when the clock ran out. Judges allowed the team to continue adding weight in an attempt to induce failure, but 150 pounds later it was still standing and there was no more available weight.
“They just stumbled upon something that was phenomenal,” he said, noting it took less than 100 pounds to collapse all of the other Vermont entries.
Dudley said there will be more weight — 1,200 pounds — available for next month’s global competition and students are operating under the assumption that they’ll be making the trip.
They met after school on Wednesday to begin tweaking their design and have already discussed solving their timing problem by having some members perform the skit while others simultaneously load weight on to the cube.
Fundraising will be the focus over the next four weeks as the local team pursues what it views as a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity to compete against other students from around the country and the world.
“These guys would definitely like another crack at it and see how they can compete on a bigger stage,” Dudley said.
The school’s parent-teacher organization has offered some assistance and donations to the BCEMS Associated Funds — attention Destination Imagination — can be mailed to: Barre City Elementary and Middle School, 50 Parkside Terrace, Barre, Vt. 05641.
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