June 10-16, 2004
By Kristen Fox / SUN Staff Writer
Video Game Project Sends Students to Washington, D.C. JOHNSON CITY — A group of St. James Middle School students have turned the video game phenomenon into a trip to the national championship of E-Cybermission to be held in Washington, D.C. this month. E-Cybermission is a web-based science, math and technology competition sponsored by the U.S. Army to encourage interest in science and technology among students in grades six through nine. Seventh-graders Chelsea Kettle, Mitchell Kukol, Amanda Richardson and Alex Skojec won the regional competition on April 12. Along with team advisor and science teacher Cora Walter, they are headed to the national championship June 26-July 2.
This was the first time St. James’ students entered this competition, according to principal George Clancy. Each year sixth, seventh and eighth graders at the school participate in a “Learning Extravaganza,” where students submit a science project. This year, several students decided to submit their projects to the E-Cybermission. To enter, students had to solve a problem in their community related to health and safety, arts and entertainment, sports and recreation, or the environment. “At first we didn’t know what to research,” Chelsea said. “We all like video games so we decided to make our project about them.”
Chelsea, Mitchell, Amanda and Alex, otherwise known as “Team M.E.W.” (Mongoose Eating Weasels) wanted to test if playing video games for a certain length of time could improve grades in academic subjects and hand-eye coordination. The team assessed adolescents who played video games for 1-2 hours and found that there was a positive change in academic grades and students’ reflexes. Their results dispelled the idea that video games are bad. Alex was surprised at what his team discovered. “I was thinking that it is completely not true that video games can be good for you,” he said. “I couldn’t believe it. If you play video games for a small amount of time, then it can be good for your grades and reflexes.” The four students enlisted help from their fellow classmates to research the project. They interviewed students who play video games, tested their reflexes and charted their grades. The team’s results were meticulously logged. “We did a lot of work,” said Amanda, who also pointed out that the group included a history of video games in their project. “A lot of people use video games in everyday life,” she explained. “The military uses forms of video games to train soldiers. Surgeons and air traffic controllers also use video games to sharpen their skills.”
All the work that went into their contest entry paid off. Team M.E.W. learned over Easter break that they had won the regional competition. “I was very surprised,” Mitchell said. “I was hoping we’d win, but I was very surprised.” The win meant a $3,000 savings bond for each student as well as the free one-week trip to Washington, D.C. Now the students are waiting for June 26, when they will leave. In the meantime, they are fine-tuning their project. “The students are working long hours to improve what they have set up,” said Walters. Sixteen teams from across the U.S. will be in Washington, D.C. to compete for the title of “National First Place Winner” in their respective grades. While they’re in the capital, students will be the Army’s guests at a VIP luncheon. They will also have an opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes tour of the Pentagon, a visit to and lunch in the Smithsonian Museum and a visit to and dinner at the Maryland Science Center.
“I can’t wait to go,” said Chelsea, who has never visited the nation’s capital. “I’m very excited.” The national champions will each be given a $5,000 savings bond. Another group of St. James’ students who also participated in the E-Cybermission received the Northeastern Region Criteria Award for the Application of Math, Science and Technology. Students Jimmy Donohoe, Colin Hauke and Garrett Lubniewski were recognized for their project which examined the effects of wax on snowboards. Walter served as the team’s advisor. The students each received a savings bond for their efforts. In all the students of St. James have won $18,000 worth of U.S. Savings Bonds from the E-Cybermission competition, said Clancy. Everything with E-Cyberission is done online. The students submit their final projects through the web and have the opportunity to discuss their projects with Army scientists and other students using Internet tools. “It took a little bit more time to do everything online,” said Colin. “But doing everything like that was fun.”
The two teams were honored at an awards ceremony held at St. James on Friday, May 28. On hand to present the awards and saving bonds were Sergeant Dennis Allen, Assemblyman Robert Warner and Johnson City Mayor Harry Lewis. Over 900 entries were submitted to the 2003-2004 E-Cybermission, said Allen. He explained that the students were judged on a wide range of criteria, from how well the larger community will benefit from their project to team collaboration and community. Allen told the students they had much to be proud of. “The whole point of E-Cybermission is to get kids to find things they are doing today that they enjoy and find better and safer ways to do them tomorrow,” he said. “These two groups of students did this. They have the initiative and the drive to succeed.” For more information on E-Cybermission visitwww.ecybermission.com