Local fourth- through eighth-grade students recently competed in a problem-solving challenge called Mind-A-Mazes. This annual event presents students with a problem they must solve in groups of three or four, using only allowable materials and following the expressed guidelines. This year’s challenge was called Crazy Catapults.

The wording of the problem was as follows: “Teams will design, construct, calibrate and set off a device capable of launching a ball into a target area. The target area in this case will be a school wastepaper basket, 48 centimeters high and 40 centimeters in diameter.”

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What made this challenge especially difficult was the requirement to calibrate the devices. Throughout the competition, the target was moved to various distances, and so the devices had to be capable of launching the ball anywhere between one meter and 11 meters – and teams had to set their device to hit its mark at any given distance.

About 75 students from Seward Elementary and Seward Middle School participated in the program, and spent five and a half weeks designing, constructing and tweaking their catapults. All of the preparation culminated in school competitions at each location, with the top four teams from each school moving on to compete at the district level. With the wastebaskets set at the designated locations on top of a square of red paper, each team had two tries to launch their ball to each of the randomly chosen distances. Points were awarded – 10 points for hitting the red paper, 25 points for hitting the wastepaper basket, and 50 points for the ball landing inside the basket.

Seward Elementary School was represented at the district competition by their top four teams: The Cuddly Kittens (Makena DesErmia, Hayden Blair and Otto Nipp), Starbucks (Oliver Trobaugh, Rheana Smith, Natalie Sieminski, and Addison Lemme), The Brainiacs (Evie Bukac, Lane Petersen, and Mason Elhard), and The Gummy Bears (Abigail Doepken, Bethany Doepken, and Nia Mulholland-Kim).

Seward Middle School also sent their top four teams: Kickin’ Chickens (Wren Dougherty, Hannah Schilling, Rowan Bean, and Tommy Cronin), Atomic Gummy Bears (Joseph Foutz, Sam McLain, Casey Bryden, and John VanBuskirk), Gavin & the Cats, Vol. II (Gavin Foote, Ozzy Deel, Luke Gunter, and Peter Spanos), and Diamond Bananas (Nick Ambrosiani, Ben Ambrosiani, Ethan Williams, and Robert Minden).

The district competition on Oct. 14 was a great experience for all of the students involved – a day of challenging competition and a chance to meet other students from around the peninsula. Seward Middle School’s Diamond Bananas team claimed first place in the Junior Division, while Gavin & the Cats, Vol. II took third place in the Intermediate/Senior Division.

Seward coach Terri Carter was impressed with the catapults students came up with.

“There were many interesting designs,” Carter said. “Some of the most creative didn’t render a win, but were highly thought out and carefully constructed.” Carter saw the potential in many of these concepts and said that with more time, they “could have been refined into great ball-tossing machines.”