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Science and Engineering Challenge

Science and Engineering Challenge

Author: Gay Ellyett
Author Role: Coordinator Exceptional Scientists' Program

Students experience aspects of science and engineering they would not usually see in their school environment. Challenge Days are designed for Years 9 and 10 students. Students are involved in a fun day competing against other schools in engaging hands-on activities. Typically eight schools of 32 students (256 students in total) compete in a Challenge Day. Points are awarded based on performance, and the school with the highest point score at the end of the day is the winner. Eight winning schools from around Australia are invited to compete at a one-day National Final each year.

Student reflections

On our CHAC bus branded with the words ‘Driving the minds of the future,’ we went to QUT to complete the Science and Engineering Challenge. Our first half day team activity was Stringways where the aim was to develop networks to join a series of towns in the most efficient way possible. In the initial scenarios, the aim was to visit as many towns as possible while having as much string left over as possible. Teams scored one point per centimetre of string remaining at the completion of each scenario. Points were deducted each time a town or pathway was missed. Scenarios 7-12 were more complex with additional penalties and bonuses. We were given 95 minutes to complete as many of the 12 scenarios as possible. This made our hearts race! The challenge was creative and forces you to think critically. Solving complex problems is a challenge unique to these events. It is always fun to work as part of a group of CHAC students. We all brought different strengths which complemented and showed that these challenges can be for everybody. STEM education is often promoted but a day at QUT allows you to experience it firsthand and exemplifies how important it is. Our CHAC students were well prepared and we won on the day despite tough competition.

GREEN TEAM: Eric Gloag, Sanjay Hingorani, Miranda Robinson, Kaya Lurie


This competition was a unique STEM experience with many challenges available and an obvious motivation to win. Throughout the day, many students worked hard to complete their challenges to the highest level. Our group, the Blue team, chose to attempt to model an earthquake-resistant structure in the Helter Skelter challenge using simple materials of paper straws, tape and paper with a wooden board as its base. For the first trial, we were challenged to build a tower with minimum height of 35cm and assess the amount of weight it could hold under static testing. After learning from this first trial, we were tasked with building a second tower from the exact materials as the first but with a different purpose of withstanding shaking from a machine while carrying weights. After both trials, the CHAC team came out of this challenge in fourth place, adding to the overall points of the day. This challenge was such an enjoyable experience. It pushed us to think outside of the box to create a model to withstand earthquakes.

BLUE TEAM: Emma Humphreys, Annabelle Phillips, Sianna Owen, Lucy Elmes


The QUT STEM day was an interactive, engaging and awesome day for all involved where we learnt through practical activities. When we arrived, we were put into our groups and moved to our individual rooms to compete against seven other schools. When we were told that the day was a competition and not just a workshop, we put on our game faces. The STEM Competition had already been going for two days and we were the last group of schools to compete. Six teams did two activities, and two teams did one activity on the day. The placement of those individual activities corresponded to points awarded to the school's total. Our first challenge was called Future power, where we were tasked with supplying different forms of energy in the cheapest and most efficient way to a futuristic city. We undertook 12 set scenarios where we utilised various combinations of power sources, including coal, hydro, wind, nuclear, solar and gas, to achieve the highest score. It was a very tedious and technical challenge as we had to be very careful not to overload our source and start all over again. The second half of our day was dedicated to building a robotic hand. Each team had one hour to build a functioning hand with fingers controlled similarly to a marionette puppet, out of materials such as straws and string. At the end of this time, the hand was put through a series of challenges, such as making symbols and picking up objects. We really enjoyed both activities and finished the day off by watching the bridge teams test their bridges and the award ceremony.

ORANGE TEAM: Max Barnett, Luke Sivyer, Charlotte McNally, Lily Pitman


On Friday, 19 February, Cannon Hill Anglican College students participated in the Science and Engineering Challenge at QUT. Our team was tasked with creating a table and two chairs that can hold and support a 1.5 kg cat and 2 kg dog ornament being placed and dropped on the structures. To construct these items, we were supplied with paper and plastic straws, wooden paddle pop sticks, rubber bands, paperclips and cardboard. Teams were charged with the cost of materials and transport fees, encouraging us to be cost-efficient and use our resources wisely, while still constructing sturdy furniture. Each challenge successfully completed resulted in money returned, and the school with the cheapest yet the sturdiest models were the winners of this challenge and contributed points to the overall competition.

This wonderful, educational experience increased our communication skills, problem-solving skills and showed us further opportunities for STEM careers. We thoroughly enjoyed this experience and are so grateful for having the opportunity to participate.

PINK TEAM: Charlotte Morris, Emma Topp, Laura Cheesman, Zoe Everett

On Friday 19 February, Cannon Hill Anglican College, along with Year 10 students from seven other schools across Brisbane attended the Science and Engineering Competition. This day comprised activities in which teams of four were required to work together to solve specific tasks. This day was an amazing experience that we were all grateful to have attended. Our group, the Purple team, chose to attempt to model an earthquake-resistant structure in the Helter Skelter challenge, and secondly the Confounding Communication task. The Confounding Communication task required us to use a simple lightbox consisting of green, blue and red lights to create symbols, and attempt to correctly send messages between pairs, divided by a black-out cloth. As the round progressed, the symbols became more difficult, and larger in quantity. In the concluding round, we were required to create a code for uppercase, lowercase, numbers and basic symbols. After a lot of teamwork, producing our communication symbols for each variable, we went into the final round with only two incorrect translations. As the challenge progressed, we learnt from our mistakes, taking out second place overall in this challenge. This activity developed both our interpersonal and communication skills.

PURPLE TEAM: Lauren Ballard, Lucy Farrell, Elliana Thomas, Kael Hourn


This challenge was once again an enlightening, insightful and interactive experience. Year 10 students from many schools around Brisbane competed in groups of 4 in different challenges. It was an amazing day - very exciting and rewarding. All CHAC teams competed with determination and strategy, which ensured CHAC was the overall winning school on the day. Throughout the day, we explored the QUT campus and learnt from current attendees about future pathways that are available for us when we are deciding on our university courses and options in only two years’ time.

The highlight of our victorious day was the challenge of constructing a prosthetic hand. We were only given one straw, one meter of string, four meters of tape to create it. Each piece of extra tape, straws and string we took, the more points that were taken off our final score. The challenge was to pick up certain objects such as handballs, tennis balls and even straws, by pulling strings attached to the fingers. We even had to control our prosthetic hand to try and do sign language! Even though it was a struggle, we managed to win this challenge. It taught us that there is always another way to do something, and to not give up if something is not working. Thank you to all the teachers involved, especially Ms Ellyett, for coordinating this engaging STEM experience.

RED TEAM: Lucinda Edmonds, Jolie Wiemers, Jessica Tonkovic, Madison Webster


The QUT Science and Engineering Challenge provided us with difficult but thoroughly enjoyable challenges. The Yellow Team participated in two of these challenges – Turbine and Stringways. Stringways focused on developing routes between a collection of colour-coded towns. Each scenario had a different goal, such as ‘reach every town without the strings crossing over’ or ‘only connect to blue and red towns in an alternating sequence.’ The scenarios also followed different rules. Some routes had to avoid towns or the other string colour, whereas other routes had to do this as well as following set paths already on the board. With twelve challenging scenarios to complete and points given for every centimetre of string left over, the hardest part was finding the balance between efficiency and speed. The Science and Engineering Challenge was great fun, and something we were lucky to be a part of.

YELLOW TEAM: Zoe Billings, Sarah Leonard, Charlotte Theil, Caitlin Teakle


The Science and Engineering Challenge was the best QUT excursion to date. We were presented with a real challenge that brought us together as a team and were fortunate enough to come away with a victory in our team challenge that helped us achieve overall first place for the day.

Our team spent the whole day on the one challenge; building a bridge out of limited supplies to hold the most weight. We were given six thin, meter-long pieces of balsa wood, a handful of paddle-pop sticks of varying sizes, limited tape, cardboard, and a setup demanding very specific dimensions of a bridge. The four of us set to work, dividing up the workload, and eventually producing a bridge of triangles and curves that only just fit between the set supports on the rig. Come testing time, the tension was high for us as larger and larger weighted carts were sent rolling across our bridge. We achieved the biggest weight out of the eight teams there, which was likely what caused CHAC to move up from second to first place overall.

This excursion is a great opportunity for any students with an interest in real-world application of STEM. The staff on the day provided us with valuable insight into where STEM could take us in terms of a career. And in the end, we also got a free cap, information pamphlet and water bottle. Our team really enjoyed the day and would recommend it to anyone interested.

GREY TEAM: Will Stuart, Tom Wood, Danielle Weizman, Ayla Lyon