New Canaan High School recently earned first, second and third place honors in the annual “TEAMS”—that’s “Tests of Engineering Aptitude, Mathematics, and Science”—competition. The STEM competition challenges student teams to work together to solve real-world engineering challenges, applying their math and science knowledge in practical and creative ways. NCHS students Luke Huang, Daryl Lavin, Kira Titova and Toby Woods won first place for the state of Connecticut and had the second-highest score in the nation. Eva Campbell, Eric Huang, Ankita Kuttichirayil and Jack Sheffield took home second place, and the team of Walker Blair, Jeronimo Marsili, Julia Paine and Adam Sabo took home third. All three teams have qualified for the “2023 National TEAMS” best-in-nation competition to be held this summer.
We put some questions to Paul Reid, NCHS Physics teacher and TEAMS coach, as well as Titova and Woods from the first-place team, as follows:
New Canaanite: What does this win say about the AP Physics program and the students in it that the team won first place at this year’s competition?
Paul Reid: I’d like to say that it means that Tony Barnett and I have done a good job of preparing our physics students for their entry to higher level STEM programs, but that would be ignoring the multi-faceted nature of this competition. It truly is much more than that. I believe that it is a reflection of the preparation that these students have had throughout their education in multiple disciplines. The critical thinking, writing, social awareness and innovation required at all stages reflects well what is required of engineers working in the 21st century. The preparation that all of their previous teachers have provided set up the foundation for them to be able to show their abilities in this national competition, and that goes not just for the team that was first in the state, but for all participants. This was a reflection of the quality of education that our students get here in the New Canaan Public schools, and it is a true pleasure and an honor to be able to play a small part in that.
What made you want to join the team?
Toby Woods: For me, the main draw of the TEAMS competition is being able to work on very applicable and pressing issues facing engineers in a collaborative and constructive environment. In the classroom environment, the principal focus is learning concepts, so I very much enjoy the opportunity to expand these ideas from theory into practice. For instance, the topics on this year’s multiple choice section ranged from suspension bridges to aerodynamics in flight; the problem sets build on your foundation of physics and provide supplemental information for the specific subject. I find it very satisfying to make connections between these different topics!
Kira Titova: I wanted to compete in TEAMS this year because I enjoyed the competition last year, and I knew it would be an interesting way to apply new concepts we learned in Physics C this year.
What can you tell us about the team’s proposal in the competition itself, to increase bicycle usage while boosting bicycle safety?
Kira Titova: Our proposal centered around making Fairfield the “biker’s paradise” of America. In order to achieve this goal, we proposed that the town could build protected bike lanes with barriers separating bicyclists from cars as protected bike lanes make riding much safer and make bikers feel more comfortable. After working through safety issues, we proposed to increase bike usage through bike sharing programs, which would make bicycles more accessible as individuals do not need to buy and store their own.
Toby Woods: One of the main areas we focused on in our cycling proposal is emphasizing the importance of biking in urban design and offering methods to create quality bicycle infrastructure. American urban planning since the mid-20th century has become increasingly car-centric, which has come at the cost of increased congestion, urban sprawl, and pollution, and has also made roads increasingly dangerous. Increasing bicycling usage, therefore, is a very important facet of combating these pressing issues; however, bicycle infrastructure in American cities pales in comparison to their European counterparts. In the US, one of the most common investments for cyclists is painting a bicycle lane in the shoulder of a road, however only around 10% of bikers feel safe in this environment, thus limiting the scope of its positive externalities. In the essay section of the competition, we proposed a number of solutions to boost bicycle safety by investing in infrastructure, in order for American cities to see benefits such as reduced traffic congestion, improved air quality, promoting increased physical activity, and even increased economic mobility. These areas of investment would include protected bicycle lanes and methods of traffic calming, such as installing road medians, planting trees, and installing raised crossings.
What was the experience of competing like?
Toby Woods: One of my favorite aspects of the TEAMS competition, compared to similar STEM-related competitions, is its multifaceted nature: In addition to a multiple choice, test-styled section, it also included an essay and Design & Build section, each of which provided a different way of engaging and working with the team. The multiple choice section was as one would expect, but the real exciting parts for me were these other two sections, because that’s where the real collaboration came in. This year, the Design & Build assignment was to create a device which mimicked a baggage handling system at an airport, and it was very satisfying to see the final product come together from scratch after an hour of brainstorming, sketching out ideas, and building.
Kira Titova: On competition day, we had to complete the multiple choice test and the design and build portion of the competition. During the multiple choice, for the most part we each focused on one section, but we also shared our ideas when coming across a more difficult question. For the design and build, we were able to come up with a possible solution quickly and use materials efficiently. Overall, I felt confident that we had done well and completed the essay, multiple choice, and design and build to the best of our abilities.
What would you say to rising AP Physics students who are thinking about participating on the team?
Kira Titova: I would recommend the TEAMS competition because it involves a more real-world application of the topics we learn in class, and there is obviously an opportunity to be successful.
Toby Woods: I would highly recommend future AP Physics students try out participating in the annual TEAMS competition, as it allows the opportunity to delve into a wide array of applications of the physics we learn in the classroom in an environment which encourages creative problem solving, critical thinking, and cooperation.