CLEAR LAKE | Colored paper laid askew on the tables and floor in a room, where more than 50 middle-schoolers, from across Iowa, busily cut, taped and constructed paper roller coasters Wednesday, Nov. 8, in Clear Lake.

Students from nine area middle schools, including West Hancock, competed in the Central Rivers Area Education Agency’s first-ever Paper Roller Coaster Design Challenge.

“We’re impressed,” said Kay Schmalen, one of two Central Rivers AEA consultants who developed the competition. The other is Mandie Sanderman. “For the first time, we’re very excited with this. They’ve been doing a nice job.”

The competition, which was modeled after an activity an area teacher did in her classroom, was created to bolster students’ teamwork, problem-solving and communication skills, while engaging them in engineering design — an emphasis in the new Iowa Science Standards — in a fun environment.

It’s for that reason Kristi Gast, a West Hancock Middle School math teacher, said she signed up her six gifted-and-talented students for the competition.

“It’s team-building, problem-solving, and it’s an opportunity for them to see other students,” she said. “We don’t have a lot of opportunities to do things like this, and it was close and it was affordable.”

Gast’s students were split into two three-person teams — one sixth grade and the other seventh grade — to compete against each other as well as 10 others for points that earn them trophies and medals for overall scores or certificates for four categories: most creative use of theme, tallest, longest run time and teamwork.

Each team had three hours to build their roller coaster using a foam board for the base and roller coaster components, like curves, loops, funnels and merges, cut out of colored cardstock that were taped together. The goal was to create a roller coaster that could carry a glass marble from start to finish.

“They’re all different,” Schmalen said, looking throughout the room where there were solar system-, sports-, candy-, superhero- and Christmas-themed roller coasters.

Both the West Hancock sixth- and seventh-grade students were “going for time,” which meant they wanted their marble to travel the slowest during the roller coaster, Gast said.

“We just want to place in general,” said Isabella Rosin, a West Hancock seventh-grader working with Rhett Eisenman and Jackson Johnson.

The West Hancock seventh-graders constructed a nearly five-foot-tall paper roller coaster featuring funnels, merges, curves and “a bunch of straight track,” similar to the one they built while practicing throughout the month of October.

Kaitlyn Deutsch, a West Hancock sixth-grader who worked with Jaden Ansel and Nolan Vaske, said her team wasn’t trying to build a roller coaster that was the same as its practice one, but rather follow its guidelines.

The sixth-graders roller coaster featured funnels, curves and a loop.

During the competition, teachers and coaches weren’t allowed to assist their teams or provide advice, which is something several coaches found difficult as they watched from a group of chairs off to the side of the room. Judges wandered around while students strategized with music playing in the background.

At the conclusion of the three-hour building session, the roller coasters were timed and judged by Jason Currier of Currier Electric, Doug Munn of ASI Construction and Rick Pearce, Central Springs AEA building and grounds director.

“I haven’t seen anything like it,” Pearce said. “It’s neat.”

The overall winner of the middle school competition was Clarksville, while overall second place went to Aplington-Parkersburg and overall third place went to West Hancock seventh-graders. Blessed Maria Assunta Pollotta received the certificate for the tallest roller coaster and Aplington-Parkersburg had the longest run time with a combined total of three runs of 146 seconds.

The West Hancock seventh-grade team had a long run time of 16 seconds with a total time of 42 seconds on three time trials, and the sixth-grade team had a long run time of 13 seconds with a total time of 33 seconds.

When asked what Ansel enjoyed the most, he said, “Literal team building,” with a smile.

Other schools that signed up for the middle school competition were Garner-Hayfield-Ventura, Rudd-Rockford-Marble Rock, Cedar Falls and North Iowa.

After the competition, Gast and her middle-schoolers visited Dean Snyder Construction in Clear Lake where they spoke with an architect and project manager about design in the construction industry.

“What does this look like in real life?” she said watching the students build their roller coasters before the clock ran out.

West Hancock high-schoolers will participate in a Paper Roller Coaster Design Challenge on Nov. 29 in Clear Lake with 10 other schools.

Reach Reporter Ashley Stewart at 641-421-0533. Follow her on Twitter at GGastewart.