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S-O students rise to a Kidwind challenge, prepare for national competition

Sibley-Ocheyedan Middle School TAG teacher Dave Johnson (left) stands with Katherine Walton, Garrett Sarringar and Elliott Croatt and their wind turbine. The students qualified for nationals in the KidWind Challenge. Robin Baumgarn/Daily Globe

SIBLEY, Iowa — Students from Sibley-Ocheyedan Middle School and their teacher, Dave Johnson, will board a plane later this month bound for New Orleans.

The group has qualified for the 2016 National KidWind Challenge May 23-24 after taking first place at a regional tournament in Cherokee, Iowa. Sibley-Ocheyedan had two teams qualify at the regional event.

Eighth-grade student Katherine Walton and seventh-grade students Elliott Croatt and Garrett Sarringar, all participants in S-O’s Talented and Gifted program, began working on their turbine in January. In addition to constructing the structure, the group is required to keep a journal of their trials and errors during the process.

Students build turbines that are tested in a wind tunnel made from fans and a vinyl cover. Each turbine is attached to a voltage meter that measures the amount of output the turbine generates over the course of one minute.

Turbines must contain a KidWind generator and gears supplied by the organization. Blades may not be made from metal or hard plastic. The rest of the design is left up to the teams.

Participants also present their journals to the judges. Additionally, teams are given the option to compete in other contests such as the “MacGyver Challenge,” which tasks competitors with lifting the most amount of weight possible with their turbines. Sibley-Ocheyedan’s Java Girls fared the best in that competition, lifting 62 washers.

The competition in Cherokee proved fruitful for the team, as it placed first during the contest. The students received certificates for winning, a tote bag and $100, which the team agreed to use for food while in New Orleans.

The win came as a surprise to both the students and Johnson.

“We went two years ago to a competition, so we knew what it was going to be like,” Sarringar shared. “But we had no idea we were going to get first.”

“We were almost the blind leading the blind,” Johnson said. “I wasn’t sure what to expect.”

At the regional contest, the director of KidWind Challenge, Michael Arquin, spoke with the students and gave them an idea of what to expect at nationals. Although the S-O team finished well locally, after hearing from Arquin, they realized they have a lot to get ready before New Orleans.

Saaringar said the team’s turbine had an output of 14,000 millijoules — the second highest of the day. With that input, the team would ideally be able to use that amount of energy to lift 14 apples one meter in one second. Arquin shared that one of the teams at the national competition had an output that can lift 160 apples in the same amount of time.

“That’s why we know we have to raise our game,” Johnson said with a laugh.

Although the task is daunting, the group is unphased by the challenge. The students have went back to the drawing board and have changed the pitch of their blades, added an extra gear and other tweaks to increase their output. Additionally, the students will be reaching out to the wind turbine department at Northwest Iowa Community College and one of Croatt’s relatives who works in the industry to get a few pointers.

Johnson, Croatt and Sarringar are looking forward to the trip to the bayou later this month. Walton has opted to stay behind for her sister’s graduation.

One of the biggest challenges is how to get their turbine through airport security and to the competition in one piece. Beyond that task, Sarringar said he is looking forward to meeting students from other areas of the country and comparing notes on how to make their turbine better.

Johnson has similar interests.

“I am curious to see the different output and see how they use their gears and see if that helps us for ideas if we decide to do this again next year… what do we need to keep improving on,” Johnson shared.

The contest takes place during the American Wind Energy Association’s annual conference. As of Monday morning, 18 teams had qualified for the competition. The Collegiate Wind Challenge will also take place during the conference.

Robin Baumgarn

Robin Baumgarn is a new reporter for the Daily Globe covering the Education and Northwest Iowa beats. Prior to coming to the Globe, she worked for the Ocheyedan Press-Melvin News, a weekly Iowa paper for three years. She is a 2012 graduate of Iowa Lakes Community College and lives in Northwest Iowa with her husband Ryan and three pets, Fidget, Missy and Samwise.

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