The team from Summit Technology Academy

December 7, 2019

Step right up and meet the student team inspiring the next permanent exhibit at Science City. Organizers of Kansas City’s most beloved K-12 competition for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) presented Tonganoxie Middle School with the grand prize in Burns & McDonnell Battle of the Brains. The seven-student team’s carnival-themed exhibit earned the school $50,000 in grant money and the opportunity to work with STEM professionals at Burns & McDonnell to transform the idea into a $1 million exhibit at Science City.

Raytown School District’s Challenge Program

“For most people, carnivals are about games, rides and cotton candy,” says Ray Kowalik, chairman and CEO, Burns & McDonnell. “The team from Tonganoxie Middle School went a step further and uncovered the physics behind all of the fun. That’s the magic of STEM: It’s part of everything around us. Our hope is these ‘a-ha’ moments will make kids more curious about STEM and, ultimately, STEM careers.”

Tonganoxie Middle School’s exhibit explores STEM concepts through popular carnival games. While knocking down a pyramid of milk jugs may appear easy, these types of games are often difficult to win. Instead of skill or coordination, students spotlight how these games are based on the laws of physics. Learning the science behind carnival games helps increase the chances of winning.

Recently, hundreds of students and teachers attended an awards ceremony at Union Station. Burns & McDonnell distributed more than $155,000 in grant money among the top 20 finalist teams. Each of the finalists received at least $2,500, with the top five winners receiving the following grant amounts:

Grand Prize: $50,000 – “Step Right Up,” Tonganoxie Middle School, Tonganoxie School District

Second Place: $25,000 – “Color and Light District,” Olathe East High School, Olathe School District

Third Place: $20,000 – “Puzzling Patterns,” Wolf Springs Elementary, Blue Valley School District

Fourth Place: $15,000 – “Welcome to DenCITY!,” Delta Woods Middle School, Blue Springs School District

Fifth Place: $10,000 – “Backyard Explorers,” Alexander Doniphan Elementary, Liberty School District

The 20 finalist teams which included Summit Technology Academy, students from Raytown School District’s Challenge Program at Westridge Elementary School, Cordill-Mason Elementary School and fourth place winner Delta Woods Middle School represented the top 2% of the exhibit submissions in a year that produced record participation:

840 proposals
7,250 students
270 schools
50 school districts

Judges, comprised of STEM professionals from Burns & McDonnell and Science City, followed a stringent evaluation process to rank entries according to specific criteria, ranging from creativity and inspiration to how interactive and engaging the exhibit could be with visitors. More than 50,000 public votes were cast for the top 20 exhibits, accounting for 30% of the judging.

“We literally travel the world to find the most unique, memorable and engaging exhibits for our visitors to experience,” says George Guastello, president and CEO, Union Station. “Some of our most popular exhibits, however, continue to be those dreamed up by area kids — most not even old enough to drive. Yet, their imaginations are limitless and connect with us all, just like Tonganoxie Middle School’s STEM-focused carnival theme. I can’t wait to see it come to life at Science City.”

The exhibit inspired by Tonganoxie Middle School’s submission will be the sixth exhibit produced through Burns & McDonnell Battle of the Brains. Launched in 2011 with a goal of sparking greater interest in STEM education and careers, the competition has delivered five interactive exhibits at Science City, valued together at more than $4 million: Science of Energy, Genetics: Unlock the Code, Every Last Drop, Simple Machines at Play and The Amazing Brain. In addition, Burns & McDonnell has invested in two additional exhibits: Science on a Sphere and the Burns & McDonnell Engineerium. Over the last eight years, more than 25,000 metro students have participated in the Burns & McDonnell Battle of the Brains.