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An Olympic challenge

Students from Ormiston Academies Trust Partnership have been testing themselves at an Ogden Physics Olympics.

Published: 31 July 2023

Last term, the Ormiston Academies Trust Partnership hosted two Ogden Physics Olympics for some of its partnership schools. Five secondary schools took part in the East of England event, whilst four schools from the Midlands participated in their Olympic event. One hundred and twenty Year 9 students took part overall.

Students had to take part in three Olympic challenges that tested their teamwork and their physics knowledge. They had just 40 minutes to complete each activity.

Firstly, they had to create the most effective wind turbine blades, judged by which turbine generated the largest voltage – SEP windmill kits were used for this challenge (available through Mindsets). Teams then had to design and build the tallest tower. Each tower had to support a mass (food tin) and they were given just 34 sheets of A4 paper and Sellotape to complete the task.

“Today was a fantastic opportunity that allowed me to improve my theoretical and practical knowledge, as well as improve my teamwork, communication and confidence.”

Finally, teams were asked to build a ‘Gravitrax’ marble run for a steel marble. Beginning at an elevated starting block and heading towards a ‘finish’ location, teams were trying to ensure the longest possible journey time; to add further jeopardy, the run included a ‘magnetic cannon’ which, when correctly positioned, enabled the steel marble to go uphill, delaying its descent!

Partnership co-ordinator, Sarah Masters shares some of the highlights from the day. “Organising the Physics Olympics was such a rewarding experience. Witnessing our students’ ‘geek out’ with fellow physicists reaffirmed the purpose of the partnership with the Ogden Trust,” says Sarah. “It was great to see the students concentrating on the challenges; listening to the focused discussions about how the pieces of the marble run should be positioned to achieve the goal of the slowest drop time; the jubilant cheers of the team whose paper tower supported the food tin at the greatest height!”

Two students shown in the forefront of the photo creating a tall paper tower - others students are pictured in the background, seated and working on a the same tower building challenge

“It was fascinating to watch as one team rejected their design for a six-bladed wind turbine in favour of one that had two blades which were carefully shaped, curved and angled in front of the fan to make the turbine and its axle move fastest and hence generate the highest voltage,” adds Sarah.

“We intend to repeat this sustainable event annually moving forward,” continues Sarah. “Reusing the kit and also sharing the ideas and instructions with other schools across the partnership.”

Ogden Regional Rep, Jenny Watson helped Sarah to organise the day. “It was the first Physics Olympics that Sarah and I had worked on,” explains Jenny. “Once we’d established three fun and purposeful challenges, spoken to teachers from all the schools and organised the dates, venues and transport, it was surprisingly easy to run this impactful event and I look forward to repeating it next year!”

“It was great to see the students’ problem solving together and learning not only about the physics involved with each challenge, but also the team working, listening and thinking skills involved,” adds Jenny. “The students’ confidence and understanding grew as their designs changed, from their first suggestions to their final solutions.”

three students in the foreground of the photo sat at a purple desk, they are creating a wind turbine with yellow blades - other people can be seen in the background of the photo

Ogden school partnerships 

The Ogden School Partnerships programme provides five years of funding, support and CPD for schools who want to work together to enhance the teaching and learning of physics. Applications for new partnerships open each year between September and February.

You can find out more by visiting the partnership pages on this website

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