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Friday, June 6, 2014

Ringwood students shine in solar car competition


By Holly Stewart

Four teams of students from Ringwood's Martin J. Ryerson School recently competed in a Junior Solar Sprints (JSS) competition. In preparation for the race events, the students met afterschool on several occasions to plan, design, and build model cars that run on solar energy. The participants are part of the district's gifted and talented program.

The Junior Solar Sprints is a race held annually since 2001 by TransOptions, a transportation-oriented non-profit that seeks to "deliver programs and services that improve mobility, the environment, and overall quality of life in northwestern New Jersey." The program, which correlates with the New Jersey Common Core Curriculum, is offered free to schools with the help of corporate sponsors. It introduces students in grades six through eight to the concept of utilizing alternative energy sources to provide energy options.

The cars needed to meet certain race criteria. Students used the engineering design process to design, build, test, and race a working model car. Like real engineers and scientists, they were required to keep a documentation portfolio of their work throughout the project. They were given a minimum number of materials but could also use additional substances if so desired. Of the materials that were supplied, only the motor and solar panel were required as part of the design. All other elements were at the discretion of the teams.

Teams M. E. Kanics, LCHM, Mighty Munchkins, and Lightning built seven working cars and held a local race at the Ryerson School to determine which vehicles would go on to the JSS Division 3 race on May 14 at Ridgedale Middle School in Florham Park.

TransOptions holds five division competitions on race week with more than 50 schools participating. After each race, awards are given for speed, craftsmanship, engineering, documentation portfolio, best use of recycled materials, and student choice. Division award winners in every category except student choice qualify to participate in the Inter-County Finals.

Three of Ryerson's four teams won awards in the Division 3 competition. Team M. E. Kanics won third place for engineering, team LCHM won third place for best use of recycled materials, and team Mighty Munchkins won first place for best use of recycled materials. Although team Lightning made the top 10 in the speed category out of more than 40 teams, they did not qualify for the next round of the race.

The Inter-County Finals were held indoors on May 28 because the weather did not call for sun. More than 50 cars raced and were judged. LCHM, M. E. Kanics, and Mighty Munchkins competed admirably but did not qualify for any awards in speed. However, the Mighty Munchkins again took first place for best use of recycled materials.

During the finals, the students found time to start planning their strategies for next year.

The JSS competition fosters skills in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education and gives students an opportunity to be involved in a hands-on project from design to implementation. As individuals, they gain valuable skills in teamwork, design, documentation, and problem solving. Along with alternative energy sources, they also learn about gear ratios, forces, and circuits.

TransOptions acknowledged the Alcoa Foundation as the primary sponsor for the JSS competition this year. Other sponsors included Public Service Electric & Gas Co., Thorlabs, Pitsco, FirstEnergy Foundation, and the New Jersey Herald newspaper.

Email: stewart@northjersey.com

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