COLUMBIA — Melissa Tague had no problem waking up her sixth-grade son, Alden, early on a gray, rainy weekend morning. He was excited to build a miniature barge and fly paper airplanes at school during the annual Smithton Laboratory and Invention Convention on Saturday at Smithton Middle School.
Nearly 100 sixth- and seventh-grade students convened at the school cafeteria. Here the students displayed traditional science projects and inventions to parents, before quickly clearing into the gymnasium, where the air was filled with fluttering, soaring and spiraling paper planes.
Riannon Zellmer and Alex Ravert, both 11, said they practiced making the perfect plane before they came to school that morning. Their trick: "Don't make too many creases," Zellmer said.
Students lined up to compete in accuracy-throwing, distance-flying and plane-landing contests. "Oohs," "ahhs" and cheers for friends filled the gymnasium as students watched the winners fly their planes.
The crowd soon moved down the hall to build small barges from aluminum foil. The goal of this construction assignment was to build a barge from one piece of foil that would be able to float the most pennies, which were loaded as "cargo."
Other students roamed the halls with homemade water rockets made from soda bottles, gift-wrap tubes and an abundance of tape. The students gathered outside to shoot their high into the sky. A few flew so far that they crossed the street and landed in neighborhood lawns.
"Ours is going to dominate, dominate," yelled Juan Chacon, 12, who had a long, tall rocket consisting of two soda bottles connected together.
While the competitions appeared to be fun for the students, they provided more than just a rainy-day activity.
"(The kids do) science in good creative ways, rather than making pipe bombs at home," Tague said.
Meera Sood, the convention's coordinator and a Smithton science teacher, said the competitions help students learn about science beyond the topics covered in the classroom.
"It's a way to get kids involved at a different level," she said.
"It's a lot more fun (than normal class)," said Sam Ostempowski, 12, while looking critically at the container he was building for the egg-drop competition, the last of the day.
Students had 30 minutes, 15 straws, 100 centimeters (39.37 inches) each of masking tape and string, five rubber bands and a handful of Popsicle sticks to create a container that would protect an egg when dropped from 30 feet.
"I think the Popsicle sticks may hit the egg, but there won't be enough energy to break it," Ostempowski said.
The Columbia Fire Department arrived at Smithton around noon. Students gathered around the fire truck as Sood dropped the containers one at a time from the truck's basket suspended 30 feet above the ground.
Cheers of disgust came from the crowd of onlookers as many of the containers busted open on impact, splattering yellow yolk across the pavement.
Ostempowski's tepee-like container did not fair as well as he had hoped. He first cheered when the container hit the ground and the egg appeared intact. Moments later, however, yolk was dripping onto his hands. With a grin, he shrugged and said it was OK.
With knowledge from this year, Ostempowski and his sixth-grade peers might return for next year's competitions with new ideas and innovations.
"I'm glad they do this. It makes science more fun," Tague said.