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  Earning top marks looked like a breeze for The Aqua Ducks who took first place for “Best Overall Solution” at the 27th Annual The Tech Challenge presented by Cisco. This year, over the course of two days at The Tech Museum of Innovation, an estimated 1,600 participants competed in the fierce design-challenge program filled with moments of gasps, laughs, and resounding cheers.

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“When going through the design process, we needed to break it down step-by-step,” said Kevin, 13, of The Aqua Ducks from St. John Vianney Catholic School. Teammate John, 13, added, “The biggest challenge we faced were issues with our device and time constraints, but in the end we were able to pull through.”

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The all-girls team, Jr. Imagineers, also from St. John Vianney Catholic School took home second place and shared how crucial trial-and-error was to their learning process, “Mistakes were helpful and crucial for us,” said Jayel, 12. The Tech Challenge, a signature program of The Tech, provides months of team learning in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), and reinforces 21st-century skills of creativity, problem solving, design, teamwork, leadership, presentation, risk-taking, perseverance, and learning from failure.

Next year’s The Tech Challenge 2015 – Seismic Engineering in Action! – was unveiled in which students will undertake the task of carefully building a structure to withstand an earthquake.

“The creativity at The Tech Challenge is stunning. Just when you think you’ve seen all the solutions to a problem, you’re presented with another way to solve it,” Museum President Tim Ritchie told the crowd of students Sunday. “If our participants can take from this program an awareness that they have the power to solve problems and that there is always a better way, we have succeeded.”

Each year, the annual team design-challenge presents participants with a hands-on project geared to solving a real-world problem. This year’s challenge saw students harness the power of wind to move water in three minutes or less to the people who need it most. Ingenious devices ranged from cardboard and water bottles to PVC pipe and wood. In addition to showing off their inventions, participants also presented their journals to a panel of judges, which for the first time, included some Silicon Valley CEOs.

Students’ drive and ingenuity are recognized with numerous awards including “Best Costume,” “Best Engineering Journal,” “Most Sustainable,” and Judges Choice Awards such as “Best Use of Cardboard and Duct Tape.” Each participant also received a medal, T-shirt, water bottle, and team photo.

For 27 years, The Tech Challenge has inspired creativity and equipped students with hands-on experiences in engineering design and real-world problem solving.  As the largest team-design competition in the Bay Area, thousands of students have put their imaginations to the test. Previous challenges have seen young innovators build devices to explore Mars craters, fight wildfires, rescue earthquake victims, collect samples in the rainforest, and deploy instruments to an asteroid.


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