Brookwood Elementary fifth graders’ proposal makes Top 20 Finalist list for possible Science City exhibit

Fifth graders at Brookwood Elementary’s Enhanced Learning Center celebrated their proposal making the Top 20 Finalist list for a possible exhibit at Science City. Photo courtesy of Kevin Frick

A team of fifth graders at Brookwood Elementary’s Enhanced Learning Center just found out this morning that their proposal for an exhibit concept at Science City has made it to the list of Top 20 Finalists for Burns & McDonnell’s K-12 STEM competition, Battle of the Brains.

If the students win the competition, they could earn a $50,000 grand prize and the opportunity to work with Burns & McDonnell architects, engineers, construction managers, graphic designers and researchers to bring their idea to life at Science City.

The Brookwood students found out they made the cut when Burns & McDonnell representatives made a surprise visit to their school early Thursday morning. The team consists of 14 fifth graders at the SM South area schools, including two attending Brookwood.

Brookwood’s project, “Good Vibrations,” is one of three schools in northeast Johnson County who had a team of students that made the top 20 list. The other two are Mill Creek Middle School in Lenexa — “The Aerodynamics Experience”; and Prairie Ridge Elementary School in Shawnee — “One Earth, One Chance.”

Polly Krapes, a teacher overseeing the Enhanced Learning Center, said the announcement and surprise visit were “very exciting” for the students.

“They worked really hard and just showed incredible teamwork,” Krapes said. “It’s hours and hours of work to be able to put something together that is really meaningful, that is really thinking about all of the different visitors to Science City and what their needs are, what they’re going to enjoy when they go see the exhibits.

“It’s just such a great experience for the kids because it’s real world. You are creating a proposal for something that is potentially real, and it’s very powerful. So to have them be able to work together as a team to accomplish that is just amazing to watch.”

The “Good Vibrations” exhibit consists of six components, including:

  • Ear playhouse (slide down the ear canal and interact with the ear)
  • Oscilloscope — A visible projection of sound waves, including frequency and pitch
  • Vibrating cords crystal — Power a crystal with electricity and it will vibrate and make sounds
  • Perplexing strings — A musical instrument where you add strings and test the volume and sound quality
  • Sonar station — Observe a remote control submarine underwater and watch vibrations and sound bounce back
  • Headphone trivia test — Listen to sounds and guess what they are

Matthew Imhoff, a fifth grader on the Top 20 team, said he feels proud of his team.

“We all worked hard to accomplish it,” Imhoff said. “There was a lot of partnership and just working together. No one could have done it without everyone else.”

This year’s Battle of the Brains competition included:

  • 7,250 students
  • 270 schools
  • 840 entries submitted
  • 50 school districts

“I was surprised that we got in ‘cause I wasn’t expecting us to make it to the top 20,” said Elliott Scorza, another fifth grader on the team. “The chances are like 1 in 100,000.”

Judges, which comprised of STEM professionals from Burns & McDonnell and Science City, evaluated each project proposal and ranked entries according to specific criteria such as creativity, inspiration, interactivity and engagement with visitors.

The student teams began work at the end of August and had to wrap up by their deadline of Oct. 22.

Jennie Skibbe, Brookwood instructional coach, said Brookwood students have participated in Battle of the Brains for the past two years. As a coach for multiple student teams this year, she was excited to see each team working hard on their proposals.

“Working with all of these teams and just watching the students, it’s amazing to see what they can dream up when they’re given the opportunity, just for that open-ended creativity, to think of a STEM concept and then just roll with it and design and create and work collaboratively,” Skibbe said. “The sky was really the limit for these kiddos, and to watch all the groups just dive in and their excitement day in and day out was so worth it.”

Skibbe observed that the fifth-grade Enhanced Learning team whose idea made the Top 20 had to work at a much faster pace on their project because they only meet once a week.

“They had to really persevere; they had to stay focused,” Skibbe said. “They had to divide and conquer, and they did a great job of that.”

The public weighs in for the final round of the judging process, which begins Friday, Nov. 15. Anyone can vote for their favorite entry at The public vote counts for 30% of the final selection. Online voting ends at 11:59 p.m. Nov. 22.

The winning team will be revealed at the awards ceremony Dec. 4 at Union Station.