CES team takes second place in the MCIU K'Nex Design Challenge

Colonial Elementary School (CES) students Zachary Halbert, Maddie Li, Taylor Cammarota and Jinay Sheth came together a little over a month ago to tackle the task of designing and using K'Nex pieces to build a crane that would move three objects at least six inches across a table. The team put the final design to the test competing against 18 other schools in the Montgomery County Intermediate Unit (MCIU) K'Nex Design Challenge on April 2.

Three students and a large marching made out of KNex


"We researched about lots of different types of cranes and how they worked," said Taylor Cammarota, CES 4th grader. "We decided on an overhead factory crane design for which one we thought would work the best."

Research is the second step in the Engineering Design Process that includes: Ask, Research, Imagine, Plan, Create, Test and Improve. Fifth grader Zachary Halbert explained how they used the process during their after school meetings leading up to the competition.

"First, there's Ask, where we asked ourselves what the needs and constraints were. Then there's Research, where we researched stuff like pulleys, gears and cranes. And then there was Imagine, where we had to develop possible solutions," said Zachary. "For Plan, we made a diagram and planned out what we'd do. Create, we built it. Test, we tested it. Improve was the last one, and we had to keep improving to make it better and better."

As part of the challenge, the students kept a journal and made blueprints so they could document the process and recreate their design from scratch at the competition site.

"We had two hours to to build our crane. We couldn't bring it assembled, so we built it for two hours and could test it if we still had time left over," said Maddie Li, CES fifth grader. "I liked the competition, because it was cool to see other people's projects."

Each K'Nex piece they used also had a corresponding monetary value, and the students were required to create a budget. The judges scored the teams' designs, journals, blueprints and budgets, as well as teamwork and creativity. In the end, the CES team tied for second place.

"It made me really proud, because we worked really hard on it and just didn't give up no matter what," added Taylor. "So I was excited that we got second."

Because this was the first year for the MCIU K'Nex Design Challenge, each school was only allowed one team. The CES students were drawn at random for the team.

"You wouldn't believe the ideas that fourth and fifth graders have. It's amazing to see their minds work and how they work together," said Chris Speranza, sponsor of the team and the Engineering and Computational Thinking specialist teacher at CES. "It was so much fun, and we're excited to do it again next year."