- Associated Press - Thursday, May 15, 2014

GILLETTE, Wyo. (AP) - More than 50 elementary schoolchildren sat in the library of John Paul II School at St. Matthew’s Church texting on their phones with their friends, an activity parents and teachers would normally react to with a collective groan.

The kids were intently focused on the messages they received from their friends, barely paying any attention to the others around them.

But it wasn’t a normal text. This was the Text-a-Builder event of the 2014 Campbell County Elementary Science Olympiad.

Adam Zuck, a sixth-grader at the host school competing on the team “Mustache Minions,” waited for his next text to come as he looked at the nonsensical mess of colored balls and gray poles piled around him.

Two floors below, teammate Breckyn Hamlin exasperatedly attempted to describe the finished model of a molecule sitting before her in a text to Adam.

This process of text communication is the foundation of the event in this year’s Olympiad. Teams of two are in separate rooms as one teammate is shown a finished model of a molecule and uses only text messaging to describe how to build it. The second teammate receives the instructions and attempts to build the scattered parts to exactly match the first object.

Adam said it was harder than he thought it would be.

“It’s confusing because there’s so many different connectors and things you can do,” he said.

Third-grader Kaspar Kuhbacher was another member of the Mustache Minions and the apparent mascot, since he wore a black felt mustache throughout the event. He and partner Katie Bradford had an equally difficult time communicating the structure of the molecule.

He wished they could text pictures.

“It would be a lot easier,” he said. “Then we could just put it together and it would be done.”

But it wasn’t just the builders who had a tough time. Trying to get the right messages across was harder than expected, said fourth-grader Kendra Michael.

“It’s frustrating to tell (teammate) Tori what do,” she said. “I think we’re almost done, though.”

Despite her conviction, the high school science club students who ran the event said only one pair of students on the team “The Nerds of One True Kind” from John Paul II were able to get the matching model within the official 30-minute timeframe.

Campbell County High School science teacher Brent Daly, who also serves as the science club leader, was one of the two administrators of the Olympiad.

He said more than 250 students on almost 50 teams participated which is at least twice more than last year. The number of students competing made it hard to officiate and keep track of things, Daly said.

The Text-a-Builder was just one of the 10 events at the Olympiad. A name-the-scientist game, Fermi measurement test, Wyoming plants identifier, perplexing predictions quiz and the Science Bowl were the other critical thinking events. The students also competed in an egg drop, sail buggy race, over extended construction event and a pentathlon to challenge them with more physical science.

While the Mustached Minions didn’t place in the top five of the Text-a-Builder round, they did place fourth in the over-extended portion with 29 points. The S2 Science with Style team from Paintbrush Elementary was named overall champions of the Olympiad.

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Information from: The Gillette (Wyo.) News Record, http://www.gillettenewsrecord.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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