Mason Elementary see ‘Battle of Brains’ winner take shape

rpulley@lsjournal.comMarch 15, 2017 

When the Mason Elementary School students first spied the exhibit they designed, excited cries rang out as they walked toward the construction site.


“It’s better than I imagined.”

“Huge. So Awesome.”

On March 10, Science City at Union Station and Burns & McDonnell gave the nine-student team its first glimpse of the installation now taking for “Simple Machines at Play,” their winning entry in the Battle of the Brains completion sponsored by the engineering company. The team is from the Aspire program, a pull-out class for gifted children that meets twice weekly at Mason Elementary and other Lee’s Summit schools.

The students’ proposal was the top of 510 entries from more than 200 schools and earned Mason Elementary $50,000, which was used to promote science and math education for Mason, part of the Lee’s Summit School District.

The school used the grant for broadcast studio equipment, smart board projectors and a piece of playground equipment modeled after the wheel and axle feature that is part of the Science City exhibit.

After the November 2015 announcement that Mason Elementary won the competition, the students began working with engineers at Burns and McDonnell to design the exhibit, which features six simple machines: wedge, wheel, axle, lever, inclined plane and pulley.

Reagan Parker, a sixth-grader who is one of the team members, said the exhibit teaches how machines work. She said she hadn’t expected to win.

“It was so cool that we did,” she said. “Now I’ve gone on this amazing journey with all the people I love,” Reagan said. “It’s like my imagination and dreams are coming true right in front of me.”

Reagan said the school uses the broadcast equipment to produce weekly podcasts. “Everybody loves it,” she said.

“Simple Machines at Play” is the first outdoor exhibit at Science City and increases its area by about 15 percent. It is an interactive exhibit with features like zip lines and a 34-foot Luckey Climber that children can clamber up, with safety netting to prevent a bad fall.

It is expected to have a grand opening 10 a.m. May 2, with all the students and families from Mason Elementary.

Nate Johnson, a construction supervisor with Luckey Climbers, a Connecticut company which fabricated a part of the exhibit, was in Kansas City for its installation and talked with students about its parts and how it was being erected.

Nicholas Pederson, of Burns & McDonnell, discussed other aspects of the project’s construction. Pederson said it made it easy for him to get up in the morning to work, knowing he’s helping the kids’ project be completed.

Another Mason Elementary team member, Ben Guthrie, said the experience working with engineers and friends brought him closer to them and his interest in architecture.

“It’s a lot bigger than I expected. I didn’t think the Luckey Climber would be so huge,” Ben said. He added that his team’s project stood out because a lot of schools were doing weather related projects, and also because it was intended to be an outdoor exhibit.

Jenny Reidlinger, their teacher, said the Battle of the Brains was a fantastic program for inspiring children, and that Burns & McDonnell engineers did a wonderful job working with the team. The students got a lot of hands-on experience in problem solving.

“They had their eyes opened on how it takes a huge team of engineers, architects, graphic designers to complete a project.”

Reidlinger said this particular group of children works exceptionally well together.

“They’re good about listening to each other and adding to each other’s ideas,” Reidlinger said. “They’re just a great group of kids.”

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