Two teams of Norfolk Academy students placed first in the state in multifaceted competitions to test skills in engineering, math, and science.
Engineering in the Wild was the theme of the 2020 Test of Engineering Aptitude, Math, and Science (TEAMS) Challenge, which required students to take a multiple choice test, submit essays, and complete a hands-on, collaborative “build" under strict guidelines.
- Norfolk Academy had two teams in the division for 11th/12th grades, competing against 13 other public and private high school teams; NA's senior team won first and the 11th grade team won fifth.
- Eight teams competed in the division for 9th/10th grades; NA's 9th grade team won first, and the 10th grade team won third.
Three of the four Norfolk Academy teams in the competition, which was completed in February, qualified to compete in nationals. However, the national tournament, scheduled to be held in late June in Nashville, has been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Dr. Robert Call, who serves as the faculty advisor for the competition, said that NA has been competing in the TEAMS competition since the 1980s, and the school has often done well. However, it is the first time that Norfolk Academy has had two first place finishes in the same year.
Norfolk Academy was recognized this fall by Newsweek as one of the elite schools in the nation for STEM education. Norfolk Academy was the only Hampton Roads-area school on the national top-500 list.
Dr. Call has expanded participation in TEAMS in recent years, a development that has been partly fueled by growing student interest in engineering at Norfolk Academy. As a result, the team of seniors had students who have participated in the TEAMS Challenge for four straight years.
The challenges for the two divisions are similar, but the multiple choice test for the upper level division requires far more calculus than the other test. The seniors earned first in the multiple choice test and essay categories.
The essays showcased a combination of practicality and creativity: Students were asked to study a zoo in their state and offer ways to improve quality, broadly speaking--in the life of the animals, in the experience of visitors, or in efficiency of operations. The NA teams focused, not surprisingly, on the Virginia Zoo in Norfolk.
Some of the ideas explored in the essays included:
- development of animal “trading cards," to help young visitors connect to the animals and learn more facts;
- use of renewable energy to reduce costs and thereby lower the price of admission, making the zoo more accessible for families;
- development of an automated food preparation system, so that zoo workers and volunteers could spend more time with the animals, rather than doing food prep work;
- and use of porous pavement on surfaces to reduce wastewater runoff into the Lafayette River.
Dr. Call said the NA teams held a robust practice session this year to help improve their competitive performance. In particular the teams focused on practicing for the build challenge, in which teams have less than 50 minutes to design, construct, test, and redesign a device made from school supplies to accomplish a surprise task. The teams are graded based on the performance of their device and how many materials they use--the fewer the better.
Teams that are able to rapidly build a prototype to test are allowed to fine tune their design or even build a second device if time permits. “The parameters of the build challenge can be strict and I am a stickler" in terms of following the rules and timing precisely, he said. “The students did a great job this year of working as a team to build, test, and improve their designs."
Members of the NA teams for TEAMS:
12th Grade (First Place): Sean Miller; Sahib Chandi; Nathan Vu; Kerri Thornton; Ali Zaidi; Courtney Kilduff; Leah Smith; Sammi Jacobs.
11th Grade (Fifth Place): Chris Asuncion; Lydia Sweeney; Olivia Danielson; Harrison Summers; Leo Kamer; Sidney Jordan; Leila Jamali; Blake Brown
10th Grade (Third Place): Toria Kauffman; Madalyn Mejia; James Thompson; Gavin Goss; Emma Fix; Kiera Mann; Nicholas Rose; Avery Britt
9th Grade (First Place): Vignesh Akkina; Micah Baum; Bella Burr; Quinn Carroll; Jen Yuan; Riley McElligott; Noah Howell; Mitchell Moore