* TOYchallenge
* Department of Mechanical Engineering Technology

April 11, 2007

Purdue-supported teams to compete in national toy design contest

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Purdue University faculty and students have helped two teams of students from Sunnyside Middle School in Lafayette that have been selected to participate in the TOYchallenge national competition on April 21-22 in San Diego.TOYchallenge is a toy design contest for fifth- through eighth-graders in which students create a game or toy and learn about science, engineering and the design process at the same time. The competition is open to all students in those grades, but at least half of each team's members must be girls

Nancy Denton, professor and associate head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering Technology, said this is the third year that Purdue has been involved with TOYchallenge and the second year that a local team has gone to nationals.

"Purdue and our department have for several years worked with the Ford Female Recruiting Initiative, which took our students out to schools in the community in an effort to educate girls about careers in engineering and technology," she said. "Our students enjoyed doing that, but they were looking for a chance to do this on a more ongoing basis, and TOYchallenge provides us with a great opportunity to do that."

Denton said Ford agreed to help sponsor TOYchallenge teams, and Purdue students and faculty, along with teachers at Sunnyside, have been serving as coaches for teams each of the past three years. A total of 18 Sunnyside students have been involved in TOYchallenge this year.

The two teams competing at nationals this year are being coached by Purdue graduate student Melissa Mladinic and Sunnyside science teacher Kathleen O'Neal. A third team, the Nerdy Nerds, coached by Denton, didn't advance to the nationals.

For the competition, each team must design a toy that fits into one of three categories: toys that teach, games for the family and "get out and play" toys, which must involve an active sport. Teams are judged on originality, creativity, engineering, feasibility, the design process, team participation and clarity of communication.

Teams were chosen to go to nationals based on a written preliminary entry, and, for nationals, teams are required to show a working prototype of the toy or game.

O'Neal's team, Broncho Basics, is creating a toy called El Blando Broncho in the "games that teach" category. It is a stuffed toy horse that helps young children learn to count in different languages. When a button is pushed on the toy, children will be able to hear numbers from 1-10 in English, Spanish, French and German.

Mladinic's team, the Smarteez, is creating a toy called Mada ?Bout Sports in the family games category. Their toy is a sports trivia game that combines a traditional board game with 3-D elements. Instead of a flat board, it is decorated with miniature pieces from each of the sports included in the trivia, including a soccer goal, baseball diamond, basketball hoop and a tennis court.

The two teams from Lafayette will be among 150 that will compete in San Diego. The grand prize winner will be invited to Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala., where members will be able to participate in activities such as simulated space shuttle missions, training simulators and talks on space exploration.

Winners also will be named in each of eight categories (team spirit, originality, engineering design, educational, inspirational, presentation and best adaptable for groups with special needs) and will receive a Vex robot.

Denton said the main goal of TOYchallenge is to educate students about what a career in an engineering field is like so they can decide early if it is a path they'd like to pursue.

"One thing the students realize as they design their toys is that engineering involves a lot more than science," she said. "Designing a product and getting it though the manufacturing process requires an ability to brainstorm, work in teams toward a common goal, perform market research and test a product.

"Engineering also requires a lot of communication - written, visual and verbal ? and students come to understand that the production process involves many steps and doesn't happen all at once."

Denton said the TOYchallenge's focus on attracting girls into technology careers is an important step in changing the gender makeup of these fields.

"When you have different perspectives, you get better products," she said. "There is a stereotype about many engineering fields that you must know something about machines or tools before starting college, and that turns a lot of girls off. Programs like TOYchallenge give girls confidence and teach them that they possess valuable skills that are essential in any engineering project."

TOYchallenge is sponsored nationally by Northrop Grumman, Southwest Airlines and Hasbro and works closely with Sally Ride Science, a science content company that takes a special interest in supporting and sustaining girls' interests in science, math and technology.

Writer: Kim Medaris, (765) 494-6998,

Sources: Nancy Denton, (765) 494-7517,

Melissa Mladinic,

Kathleen O'Neal, (765) 771-6100,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

To the News Service home page

Newsroom Search Newsroom home Newsroom Archive