September 22, 2014

Elyria
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Area students compete in annual Science Olympiad

ELYRIA — Ever soldered your own robot together from spare parts? Tyler Freeman has.

The 14-year-old lifted his goggles for a few minutes Saturday at Lorain County Community College to explain how he transformed a simple remote-controlled car into a machine capable of moving tennis balls around an obstacle course.

“It was really hard,” he said. “I had to look a lot at some manuals, but once I figured out how to change the steering control, all we had to do was program it.”

With fellow students Matt Fisher, 12, and Josh Cole from Amherst Junior High School, Tyler spent six months building a robot — and never got it to work.

With just two days to go until Saturday’s Lorain Regional Science Olympiad, the trio rigged a backup robot that finally did the trick, using Josh’s coding expertise and two robot “brains” linked by infrared signals.

“This really makes them problem solve. It forces them to think outside of the bounds of what they’d normally do in the classroom,” said Matt’s mom, Robyn Fisher.

That kind of learning is crucial, Science Olympiad organizer George Wachowiak said.

The United States lags behind other nations in science education — which is why the European Coalition, China and Japan are beating America in the modern space race and in developing new technology, he said.

“We’ve ignored science for a long time. We don’t really fund it, and now we’re starting to see the results,” Wachowiak said. “We have to do something to get these kids interested in science or we’re going to be left in the dust.”

Thomas Smith, 12, from Clearview’s Durling Middle School, said he learns more from the Science Olympiad than he does in the traditional classroom.

“It’s better if you learn hands-on than just from a piece of paper. You learn what you’re doing instead of just the theory behind it,” he said.

Thomas spent part of his day plotting frequencies and amplitudes in the “Crave the Wave” competition. His teammate, Clearview senior Julie Freeman, 18, spent her morning in the remote sensing event, using a protractor and pencil to map the surface of Mars.

Other events had students building gliders, solving logic puzzles, constructing catapults and making machines that could safely transport eggs along a track.

Contact Jason Hawk at 329-7148 or jhawk@chroniclet.com.