KINGSBURG – Four teams in Rafer Johnson Junior High’s MESA class have come back with medals after taking part in the annual California State University, Fresno, MESA Day competition. In fact, the top two teams in a new event were both from Rafer Johnson.
MESA stands for Mathematics Engineering Science Achievement. Their teacher, Carrie Boyd, said the course started out as an after-school club but has been an elective for at least the past six years at their campus.
The goal of the class is prepare students for professions requiring degrees in engineering, and other mathematics and science-based fields. It’s sponsored by the Lyles College of Engineering at CSUF.
“I like that this gives them the opportunity to be creative and use the ideas that they don’t otherwise get a chance to express, or compete with things they think of.”
Aside from having high math or academic skills, the students themselves say the class challenges them to learn collaboration skills as well.
“They typically have great ideas and do great academically, but some don’t have the ability to communicate well, work in teams and express their ideas so I think this builds that aspect of it as well,” Boyd said.
Boyd said while she’s proud of the teams that earned medals, she’s impressed by the work ethic and goals of her MESA students overall.
“We compete against large schools like Mendota where they have hundreds of kids in their programs, as well as Los Banos, and we placed right up there with them. We placed second overall at the MESA Day so to have a small group do so well is very impressive.”
Here are the groups:
Competition: Math Escape Room
Team: Elijah Rice, Bobby Rodriguez and Ethan Guerrero
Rice said in this challenge, they were presented with a scenario where a researcher had gone off in search of an artifact. To decipher his journal entries, they had to do math problems and then make decisions about his journey, such as what form of transportation would be best. They’d give their answers to judges who would tell them if their answers were correct or not, and then they’d give the team their next problem.
“It all related to the story and at the end, we had to fill out a map according to the information we discovered to figure out where he ended up. It was like a big riddle,” Rice said.
Guerrero said other decisions about the traveler had to be made as well such as type of food he ate, what type of animal he should bring and what route would be the fastest to travel.
Rodriguez said while calculating the math portion of the challenge was one thing, doing so while seeing the competition advancing was another.
“I got nervous, but during the challenge the easy part was doing all the calculations to find the solution. The hard part was finding the right answer and going back and forth and erasing all our answers to make sure. Plus, we were all in the front, and everybody else was in the back.” Thus, as their competitors finished one segment, they’d have to walk past the Rafer Johnson teams to get their next challenge.
“So anytime anybody was done, they came past us as they finished a problem and we saw them. But we’d also know where they were at,” Guerrero said.
Rice agreed this just put the pressure on them to continue. Since this was the first time MESA offered the Math Escape challenge, he said it “felt pretty cool” to win against the even larger schools in Fresno that were also competing that day.
Competition: Math Escape Room
Team: Lorne Rogers, Cy Hammerstrom and Lizeth Zaragoza
Since Rogers, Hammerstrom and Zaragoza also competed in this event, they explained further what the Math Escaped entailed.
Zaragoza said all the different problems had multiple steps involved.
“Each problem had a few steps to it. We had to solve the problem in order to get the next clue in order to move on.”
Hammerstrom said they, too, were feeling the pressure during the competition as they knew that speed, as well as accuracy, were needed to win.
“It was a progressive race and you tried to get the fastest time. You couldn’t hear anybody else and you didn’t know who finished before you, so that pressure on you was a lot.”
Rogers said they all felt accomplished taking the first two spots in this new event.
“We were pretty close and we felt the pressure to keep going and keep trying. You never really knew if people were ahead of you or not.”
Competition: Wright Stuff Glider
Team: Nathanael Gong, Kenny Brookman and Bryce Ellberg
This is Gong’s second year in MESA and he previously conducted a cardboard boat race and a paper marble rollercoaster challenge this past year.
This year, the challenge was to build and fly a light-weight, balsa wood glider 40 feet to a specific target. Clay was used to add weight to the glider.
Brookman said the challenge was two-fold.
“We had to get the right weight for the glider and on the nose to make it shoot forward and hit the target on the ground.”
Ellberg said their first creation resembled a snowman but it didn’t fly as they’d hoped. They changed up the design for the MESA Day competition
“We used a designed that looked a lot like a plane. That was better. The hard part was having the wings tilted at a certain point so there was more air molecules underneath the wing and being thrust down, instead of over the top. We also had to angle the wings, so it had to do a lot with how the wings were shaped.”
Brookman said for their first flight attempt, they didn’t use any clay. They soon realized that design needed modification.
“Without any clay it flew way past the target. So we added more and more clay and the fun part was when we finally saw the amount of clay we added got us close to the target.”
Gong said the class helps them all build teambuilding skills as they wanted their project to truly be a group effort.
“The challenging part of this class is trying to evenly distribute the work but also make it so everyone’s comfortable with what they’re doing.”
Competition: MESA Think Tank
Team: Trista Fry, Grace Porter and Kenny Brookman
In the Think Tank event, students are challenged to design their own project before the actual CSUF MESA Day event, and then pitch their idea to a panel of judges.
“They might like the idea and use it for an actual project like the glider or math escape room,” Fry said. “You make your own project, create your own rules and you actually design a prototype and presentation. Then they score on how well you do in each of those categories.”
The team modified an idea Porter already had and dubbed it ‘The Convenient Dog Feeder.’ The device helps pet owners feed their dog for four consecutive days.
“There are slots in it, so you fill the dog food up and put the slots in,” Porter said demonstrating the design. As each slot is removed, the dog food tumbles down to a bowl waiting below. “Each day you pull a slot, so you don’t have to fill their bowl every day.”
Fry thinks that with a few modifications, they could make their convenient feeder even easier to use.
“I think the judges overall liked the idea since it was a little different and out of the box. It was something you could actually use and it’d be helpful for everyday people. I think they like it was cost efficient and people could actually use it.”
For their next project, the MESA students will create and demonstrate Rube Goldberg machines at the Rafer Johnson Open House on May 22. The object of these creations will be to move an object, such as a marble or ping pong ball, from one spot to another.
For next year, the MESA students encourage others to sign up for the course as it allows students a chance to apply all the math, science and communication skills they’ve been learning in all their other classes with more hands-on projects.
“It teaches you engineering, math and science that are all core elements that are important for this generation to know,” Rogers said. “In MESA, a lot of the times you’re working in teams so you’re definitely collaborating and getting to know your peers.”