Students test the limits of science

Published April 26, 2007

Students at Challenger K-8 and at Powell Middle schools are trying to come up with alternative energy sources - and winning competitions with their work.

Students from both schools placed in the regional Science Bowl and are headed for the next round.

Powell's team - eighth-graders Brooke Kahn, Tyler England, Colton Lawver, Sean D'Amico and Khusbu Pun - took sixth place in the science and math oral quizzes at the regional competition in Georgia, which included 18 teams from Florida and Georgia.

Challenger's team - eighth-graders Tim Marro, Dan Wilson, Angel Morera and Brandon Reaves, plus seventh-grader Sumer Doulk - took second. They were sixth last year.

Since the top-placing teams move on to the next level of competition, both teams are now busy building model cars powered by hydrogen fuel cells.

The vehicle competition is the core, and it's serious stuff, according to Powell coordinator Arlene Rodriguez.

"They can apply it to their own lives and problems the earth has - looking for a solution. They get so excited and emotional. It becomes important to them," she said.

Challenger's coordinator, John Pennington, said the second part of the GM/Florida Energy Office-sponsored competition takes place May 11 in Cocoa Beach. His team's car took first place last year; Powell's was second.

He said there are new and better fuel cells this year. The cells are smaller, so the vehicles will go faster.

"The kids get exposure to alternate fuel ideas," he said. "In seminars, they see actual hydrogen-powered cars and hear lectures by NASA personnel. It's a great start for their futures."

It takes about a month for the teams to build their cars. They do the design and all of the work on their own, with supervision.

Between building sessions, Pennington and Rodriguez provide information on topics related to the construction process.

Rodriguez thinks it's a good way to break the students' routine with a positive learning experience. She knows kids tire of routine, especially with the school year winding down, and this is an exciting interlude, she says.

"They get surprised by how much they learn through the hands-on experience," she said. "It makes me feel fulfilled."

Pennington agreed. He says he will continue the program at Challenger as long as there's an interest.

Challenger and Powell have become friendly science/math rivals. Sometimes Challenger pulls ahead; other times it's Powell.

"Doesn't matter," Rodriguez said. "It just means Hernando County students are right up there at the top."