St. Michael’s Choir School students Zachary Miller, Andrew Wright, Augustin Chuachiaco and Massimo Kincses pose with their hovercraft. Below, an up close view of the craft, complete with pennies and toothpicks, that qualified for the provincial chamipionship sponsored by Skills Ontario. Photos courtesy St. Michael’s Choir School

Singers hit right note with STEAM powered boat

By 
  • March 6, 2022

Four students from Toronto’s St. Michael’s Choir School have advanced to the championship round of a provincial competition — and they aren’t a singing quartet.

Grade 12 students Zachary Miller, Andrew Wright, Augustin Chuachiaco and Massimo Kincses have used the power of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) to qualify for the Provincial Championship Hovercraft Race. Hosted by Skills Ontario, Junk Drawer Races is a virtual contest series for students in Grades 2 to 12 to learn about opportunities in skilled trades and technologies. The Grade 9 to 12 category challenges students to build hovercraft that can move, race and carry weight. The objective is to develop world-class technical skills in Ontario youth.  

Participants designed and constructed a hovercraft made from paper products, a hobby motor, plastic and toothpicks and then ran their hovercrafts through a video recorded test. Projects were judged virtually by how fast the hovercraft travelled a 10-metre distance. In the design process the choir school team decided to go with a trial-and-error method instead of working towards one final goal. What they recognized in the process was the need to create a smaller model in order for the motor to push the hovercraft forward.

Prototyping with each step, they troubleshot and made adjustments to their design along the way. The biggest challenge was that the materials they were given to work with did not always perform consistently. Changes in motor speed, for example, made the hovercraft difficult to test at times. Designing a brand new model for the championship round, they made their championship submission on Feb. 23. Winners will be announced on March 23. 

“We were not surprised (to qualify for the championships) because we’re a music school (but) we also have a strong reputation in science and math,” said Kincses.

“I think it shows that even though the focus of our school is on music and oral, we can still (excel) in other things like STEAM,” said Chuachiaco.

Choir school teacher Janette Buckley introduced the contest to her Grade 12 physics students as an in-class project. The four group members, all with a penchant for science and technology, ran with it. They were supported through the qualifying round by Buckley. Biology and physics teacher Elisa Colella oversaw the championship round. The boys worked independently, particularly in the final round, where they had to get together outside of class.

“They really worked together for this entire project utilizing each other for success,” said Colella. “They put to test their critical thinking skills and innovativeness. It took a lot of different elements to make this one project. They had to worry about the physics involved and there was a lot trial and building with the materials that they had. It was very impressive to see. Everyone here at St. Michael’s Choir School is very proud of their accomplishment no matter what happens in the final round.”

With the support of the school the team ordered additional parts for their final submission. Material arrived just a couple of days before the final submissions were due, which meant they had to really crunch to get everything done. Team members say they are proud of what they came up with and, regardless of the outcome, feel their model will be very competitive.

“We actually did better the second round, which is awesome,” said Wright. “We really pulled through. I have high hopes for the championship round. I think we could do very well.”

Contests in other age group categories include gravity-powered robot walker race, cardboard car race, paper glider competition and a hydraulic crane challenge. With over 200 submissions across the province, judges went through every project, grading students on their creativity, skills, knowledge of the skilled trades and technologies that were incorporated. Throughout every contest, Skills Ontario prioritized using material from household items that were easily accessible and recyclable. The teams that advanced to the championship round in the high school cardboard hovercraft category also included Catholic high school Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Academy, in Keswick.

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