They didn’t win the prize, but three Benjamin Tasker Middle School students said their first trip to the SeaPerch Nationals taught them important lessons about science and teamwork.
“I learned that teamwork can be hard, but if you don’t let it get in your way, you can prevail,” said eighth-grader Kaniela Lardizabal, 13, referring to his team’s ability to reach compromises.
Kaniela and seventh-graders Austin McCormick, 13 and Marc Conn, 13, all of Bowie, competed Saturday in Mississippi in the SeaPerch Nationals competitions, where the students had to build an underwater rover capable of accomplishing obstacle courses.
SeaPerch is an annual event were students from sixth to 12th grade can compete in various tasks with their underwater rover — built with PVC pipe, flotation devices and small motors. The event is put on by the Office of Naval Research to encourage students to learn science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, as well as “soft skills” such as teamwork and leadership, said Ingrid Michele Johnson, principal of the Bowie school.
The team performed well at the regional competition, so they were able to attend nationals, she said.
“When working on the poster board, they individually had their own ideas,” Johnson said. “But they were able to work it out and bring those ideas together to make a great-looking board.”
This was the first time Benjamin Tasker has had a SeaPerch team compete in the nationals and the second year the school has held the program. In 2013, there were three teams but that number doubled to six for this year, Johnson said.
Austin said what interested him about the program was getting a chance to build things. He said it helped him better understand science and made it more exciting.
“I love engineering. I love building things,” Austin said. “I build everything at the house. At home they call me the engineer master. I hook up all the electronics at the house.”
Austin and his teammates said their favorite part of the competition was watching their underwater rover in action as it glides through the water.
“The controlling is really fun,” Austin said. “You find out how to maneuver it to unlatch hooks and move through gates.”
While the team didn’t win, Ella Marie, sixth grade science teacher at Benjamin Tasker, said the program provides a spark to STEM learning in the classroom. When students can build a project and test it out and learn from their mistakes, it excites them, she said.
“We want them to have an expansive interest in science,” Marie said. “It just gets them interested in science in general and STEM careers long term.”
Marites Melad, eighth-grade science teacher at Benjamin Tasker, said she was impressed with the students’ efforts. It was surprising to see them handle sophisticated tools, like soldering small metal while building their underwater rover, she said.
“I think at the very start they weren’t prepared for that,” Melad said. “But surprisingly they were able to do it.”