Winning with teamwork

The EPro8 (Engineer, problem solve, innovate) Challenge is an inter-school engineering and problem solving competition for students from years 5 to 10. It is now in its third year and participation is growing steadily.

The EPro8 Challenge has been happening around the country, with more than 7,000 students from years 5 to 10 participating this year in 230 separate events involving 659 schools nationwide.

The competition is based around a series of engineering and physical problem solving challenges. In each heat, student teams are assigned to workstations that have the same set of mechanical equipment to complete the challenges. The teams are tutored in the use of the equipment they’ve been given.

The challenges that teams undertake at the events are kept secret right up to the last minute.

Past challenges have included things like building a Mars rover, constructing a crane, designing a party-popper machine and calculating how many balloons it would take to make someone float away. The challenges are all designed to give students a fun and rewarding introduction to science and engineering.

Much of the equipment that students use for the challenges has been 3D printed specifically for the EPro8 Challenge. The creator of the event Kelvin Thiele says this is so teams can get stuck into the problem solving aspect of the challenge straight away.

“We also wanted the completed challenges to look great, to be large scale, and to be spectator friendly”, he says.

Before launching the first edition of the EPro8 Challenge in 2015, Kelvin and his brother Andrew, who run an events management company, spent a year planning the competition. Kelvin says that the motivation behind EPro8 came when he asked himself what he would have liked when he was a child.

“Basically I thought, ‘what would have been my dream event when I was 11 years old?’ I know how much fun engineering can be, and what a great opportunity engineering is to put some basic scientific and mathematical principles into practice.

“We wanted an event that first of all was fun, and that would allow students from a wide range of backgrounds and experience levels to be able to achieve more than they thought. I also wanted it to be spectator friendly so parents and teachers can come and watch what the children achieve.”

While the competition is focused on engineering challenges, there is an element of team strategising involved. Teams are intentionally given more tasks, in the form of challenge cards, than they could possibly complete in the given time. This means that teams must rapidly choose those tasks that they feel they can complete.

“There are also multiple levels of complexity to each challenge. Teams can choose to make a basic version of the structure they’ve been asked to complete, or give it more features to earn more points. For example, one of last year’s challenges was to build an electrically powered crane that had two buttons: one to raise a cargo, and one to lower it. But students could also add a warning siren that sounded before the load was raised, and an auto-stop feature. Of course, pursuing these extra points will take more time.

Kelvin reports that there are great educational outcomes explored in every EPro8 challenge, including collaborative learning.

“Each of the challenges has a basic science or mathematics principle behind it. For example one of the past challenges was a laser tracking system. For this challenge, teams mounted a magnifying glass in front of a light to create a focused pattern on the roof – so they were learning about optics and basic electrical circuits. They then pointed the spotlight at an ‘asteroid’ mounted in the hall. The teams had to take some measurements and use these for basic calculations.”

This is how problems present themselves in the real world. It takes a range of skills from different learning areas to find solutions.

“But really, the key skill that leads to teams succeeding is being able to work as a team.”

 

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