Sun, Nov 21, 2004 - Page 17 News List

Battling for scientific greatness

The Power Tech competition pits junior high school students against each other using machines of their own creation and design

By Max Woodworth  /  STAFF REPORTER

The two teams from Chornming Junior High School pose wit

PHOTO: MAX WOODWORTH, TAIPEI TIMES

In one of the more tangible signs that Taiwan's education system is re-engineering itself to place a greater emphasis on hands-on learning and creativity, the Power Tech 2004 competition concluded earlier this month with a record number of entrants.

This year, 120 four-person teams from junior high schools around the country took part in the contest in which the mission is to create machines within a two-and-a-half-hour time frame that can out-race and out-pull their opponents. The competition is a kind of cross between the Robot Wars and Junkyard Warrior competitions that challenge teams to create machines from scrap parts and then battle each other in a final face-off.

But the Power Tech competition, sponsored by the National Science Council, is a tamer affair, with the criteria for victory including the creativity of the design of each robot and a written report on the building principles of each machine, as well as the final robot-on-robot competitions.

In all three categories in the two years of the competition, teams from Tainan's Chorngming Junior High School have stood out as the best in Taiwan, with one team from Changhua's Yangming Junior High School being the only competitor to give the champions a run for their money this year.

On visiting Chornming Junior High School and speaking with its ebullient principal Lin Mao-sheng (林茂生) it's easy to see why the students here are leaders in this particular type of contest. The school is a beehive of activity, with students going about their business in classes and informal clubs, refuting the commonly-held impression of oppressive schools where kids' noses are buried in textbooks as they anxiously prepare for the next exam.

"We try to think of education as a field that the students need to cultivate themselves. For that, we try to provide them with more opportunities to learn creatively and to give them a stage where they can demonstrate their potential to others," Lin said, glowing on account of the students from his school who placed first and third at the finals of the Power Tech competition at Taipei Teachers College on Nov. 6.

Lin appointed one of his teachers, Chang Cheng-guo (張正國), to guide the students in their training for the contest, starting last April. Chang and the students spent countless hours during the past six months overcoming initial technical difficulties in successive rounds of simulation contests, while learning to handle intra-team conflicts that arose over how to best design the machines.

"Maybe more than anything, this type of activity teaches the students the value of teamwork," he said. "When two methods are tested, there is often a clearly favorable choice, so for the sake of the team, everyone needs to cooperate based on observable facts instead of egos."

In the competition, teams are provided with a uniform-size motor and batteries and can use an assortment of materials including wood boards, nuts, bolts, stones, metal weights and flexible plastic strips to build machines that can generate forward movement on a standardized rubber surface without the use of wheels. Machines cannot exceed 30cm in length and 20cm in width. The three winning teams arrived at the competition with their designs already agreed upon and completed the machines within an hour, using the remaining time for fine tuning.

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