About 500 students representing 14 area school districts participated in the regional Elementary STEM Olympiad on Nov. 8 and 9.

Sponsored by the University of the Ozarks and Guy Fenter Education Service Cooperative, the one of a kind elementary STEM competitions allows students in grades 2 to 4 to become actively involved in solving real world problems by using the knowledge they gain through classroom instruction in science, engineering, technology and math (STEM).

Participating area districts included Alma, Booneville, Clarksville, Van Buren, Greenwood, Hackett, County Line, Charleston, Lavaca, Mansfield, Paris, Waldron, and Fort Smith.

Originally devised as a competition for upper middle and high schools, elementary competition excites students about science while demonstrating why it is important for them to grasp a solid foundation in the core subjects.

Students were given real world problem and basic supplies and are expected to work as a team to devise a solution. Competition this year involved constructing a water tower that will survive earthquakes and natural disasters, devising a water filtration system to purify contamination, constructing a vehicle that can withstand crashes, and devising a catapult demonstrating Newton’s laws of motion.

For the first time in the region, students were provided the opportunity to participate in an elementary robotics competition. Each school were given the components for a Lego robot which they constructed and programmed for the competition.

In addition, upon arrival, student groups from each district were presented a special engineering problem for which they had to devise a solution. This year’s special problem involved devising a method to deliver food supplies to an island devastated by an earthquake. Given simple materials and scarce instruction, students devised projectiles that delivered food supplies to hula-hoop islands set at varying distances.

Not only a competition, students were presented the science and math behind the projects by experts from within the field of study. Experts included Steve Brodie of U/A Fort Smith, Cindy Bunch of ATU, Roy Young of Clarksville water department, and various professors from the University of the Ozarks.

Tracie Adams of Waldron, one of the foremost robotics teachers in the state, introduced the various robots from her school and presented an exciting program that involved robots talking, dancing, and even singing along with her daughter.

The more than 150 medals awarded this year were almost equally divided between the many participating districts, a good indication that STEM education is being effectively taught across the region, according to event organizers.