Students in Sarah Lenhardt Mair's Grades 1/2 class at Wellington School walked away with all three top spots in the Wind Powered Lego Car Challenge presented by Skills Canada Manitoba this spring.
Lenhardt Mair says the design process—including research, building and testing—took her students a week. To meet the contest criteria all students produced design blueprints with measurements and videoed their cars being propelled by a wind source down a measured track. They also worked together on a Google document to showcase videos, photos and write-ups of the experience.
"It really brought out a bunch of creativity (and) brought out a lot of problem-solving skills," Lenhardt Mair said, adding that blueprints provided an opportunity for students to brainstorm their designs and use math skills.
Of course, when working with Lego, patience is an invaluable skill.
"It could be challenging when you've rebuilt your car ten times and you're moving it and something falls off again," Lenhardt Mair said.
Such challenges were in store for Nelson, 7, who took first place with his space-themed car. His brain needed to do a lot of "processing," he says, to fix unforeseen issues.
"Legos are fragile, so they can obviously break off," he said, hearkening back to breakages he had to address during test runs.
He made a crunch-time design decision to remove stairs leading up to a mini-ship, thus reducing vehicle weight and increasing stability. With a NASA-logoed sail and forward and side-facing windows, his car made a solid run just past the 2.5-metre mark to achieve full points for distance. When asked if his detailed blueprints, which included wheel-dimensions, helped him edge the competition, he demurred that his win was "just a coincidence, a giant coincidence."
Michaella, 7, whose summer-themed car captured third place, was proud of Nelson's perseverance in the face of setbacks and Lego breakages.
"I liked how Nelson didn't give up on his building. He kept on building," she said.
Opting for a large orange sail braced by masts on two sides, one reaching a staggering height of 16 cm, Michaella's car rolled straight and intact on its run (though it appears in the video a passenger, perhaps fearful of the high speeds, bailed mid-trip) and blew past the three metre sticks laid adjacent to the classroom floor speedway.
Second-place finisher Margaret's flower-themed car had a purple sail and a cockpit festooned with hand-drawn flowers and Lego greenery—including a side-mounted steering wheel, door and windows. The 12 cm tall cockpit may have contributed to capturing the wind as her triumphant run also sailed far past the sticks.
Margaret, 7, said she liked doing the math involved in producing her car design. When asked who loves math, all three top finishers raised both arms, and feet, high into the air, with Michaella sharing that math is her favourite thing to do with her dad.
Lori Royal, program director at Skills Canada Manitoba, said their online challenge series geared towards schools have been popular, especially during the periods when the pandemic was keeping kids at home.
The last batch of eight challenges are over now, but more may be coming in the summer and a new series could be starting next fall, Royal said.
"Teachers really like these challenges too because they can have the students do them as a project in the classroom and they're learning about blueprints and measurements."
Eleven of Lenhardt Mair's Grade 1/2 students—all that were in class at the time—competed in the Wind Powered Lego Car Challenge against 25 other Manitoba K-4 students. She says when she told them about the contest they were "really excited, like, jumping up and down and screaming."
Part of the excitement might have been knowing they would be doing the project with Lenhardt Mair, someone Nelson labelled the "best teacher in the world."
"And she lets us do whatever we want sometimes," added Margaret.
To see videos and more photos of students' wind-powered creations—including those of Aubrey, Ava, Eiko, Henry, Jade, Nadine, Raziela and Sunshine—go to winnipegsd.ca, find the story Wellington Students Excel at Skills Manitoba Challenge, and click the link at the bottom.
Sean Ledwich, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Leaf