Students put tech skills to the test

Students from 20 middle and high schools across Montana compete
2010-04-20T00:00:00Z Students put tech skills to the testROB ROGERS Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette
April 20, 2010 12:00 am  • 

Curt Prchal likes the notion of students gathering to compete with nothing more than what they’ve got in their heads.

“You bring a skill set here, and you hope it’s good enough,” he said.

Prchal, who teaches at Will James Middle School, helps run the Montana Technology Student Association State Conference, which continues through today in the Montana Pavilion at MetraPark.

Nearly 200 students from 20 middle and high schools have been competing at the event for two days, racing CO2 cars and hill-climbing vehicles that they built over the past few months with their Technology Student Association clubs at school.

Building projects

But most of the action happens as students arrive and are given projects to build while at the competition — projects as varied as bridges, gliders, and cars powered by propellers and rubber bands. Much of the project building is trial and error.

“These kids are failing, and then they’re having to go back and fix it,” Prchal said.

And, for many of the students, that’s the fun.

“It’s actually really enjoyable,” said Josh Slavin, a senior from St. Regis High in Western Montana.

The students at the conference from St. Regis, a high school of about 45 kids, like attending the event. They get out of class for a few days and get to test their mettle against bigger schools.

But they also enjoy simply meeting new people.

“Other than this, we don’t compete with these schools,” said Morgan Hill, a senior.

Trevor Brooks, an eighth-grader from Castle Rock Middle School in Billings, was working with fellow clubmates Darryl Ostermiller, Austin Samek and Cammry Lapka — who are all seventh-graders — to build magnetic levitation vehicles, a glider and a late-break speeder, one of the propeller-and-rubber-band-powered cars.

As a club, they had worked on projects before arriving at the conference, but were now devoted to getting their conference-assigned tasks up and running. For most of them, it’s why they joined Castle Rock’s Technology Student Association.

“I’m interested in building things,” Cammry said. “I always dreamed of inventing something special for the world.”

Darryl agreed.

“I like tech ed,” he said. “It’s fun to build things.”

Work on display

Many of the participating schools set up displays of the projects they’ve undertaken — everything from triangular track and field jump pit covers from Glasgow to metal recycling bins from Gardiner.

“Practical application of math and science is what it is,” said Dave Jensen, the St. Regis club adviser.

The conference will finish out today with an awards ceremony at 2 p.m.

Contact Rob Rogers at or 657-1231.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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