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June 25, 2008 > Local team wins honorable mention at national Toy Challenge

Local team wins honorable mention at national Toy Challenge

Submitted By Charlie McClellan

The "Pet Sitter" board game may not be well-known yet, but give the Ritzerz group time and it may well reach that status. The "Ritzerz," sixth grade students at Glenmoor, designed Pet Sitter, for the Sally Ride Science Toy Challenge and received an honorable mention award in the design category for their efforts. This year's West Coast National Toy Challenge took place in San Diego on Saturday, May 31. Following their return to Fremont, the team got together on a Saturday afternoon to hand out awards and show off the game to parents and siblings.

Focused on encouraging girls in the fifth through eighth grade to remain interested in math and science education and develop and interest in engineering, the Sally Ride Science organization organizes an annual nation-wide toy challenge competition. This emphasis on girls is to counter a huge drop in test scores and grades among 5-8th grade girls in math and science classes. Thus, Toy Challenge rules state that 50% of the team must be girls.

Sally Ride was the first US astronaut, was on a number of Challenger space shuttle missions. She was an enthusiastic science and math student in school and initiated the Sally Ride Science organization. In addition to Toy Challenge, this organization holds science festivals for girls. Last fall, Ms. Ride spoke to girls attending a Science Festival in Mountain View at Ames Research Center.

Pet Sitter won honorable due to the overall design of the game, and not a specific category. Toy Challenge has four categories of games, and gives a limited number of honorable mentions for design and engineering across categories. Design refers to the overall completeness of the game, that the process and rules were well-defined, the game pieces, spinners, sand timer, layout, etc. were well done.

Each player is responsible for caring for pets. As players move along the game board, they land on squares that may earn or lose points or a turn. Some squares ask the player to select an "event" card, which will describe a typical event that may happen to a pet sitter. The Ritzerz team interviewed pet sitters for real world stories of things that happen: A pet may get sick and have to go to a veterinarian, suffer separation anxiety and tear up furniture, or do well under pet sitter care (the pet sitter gets another pet to care for). Events will add or subtract points.

In addition to event squares, a player may land on a "charade" square. The player then acts out the charade, and if another player guesses correctly within one minute, both players get a point (a sand timer made of water bottles is used).

The Ritzerz usually eat lunch together; the idea of forming a team and creating a game was a frequent lunch-time conversation. The name Ritzerz came about during one of those school lunch-time discussions. One of the group members was eating Ritz crackers and suggested Ritz. Another, not wanting to take a name directly from a cracker, suggested Ritzerz. They started by building a rough prototype and working through the game. In order to compete, a lengthy document describing the game was required as an official entry. Typically over 400 entries are received at this stage but only a fraction of these are accepted for the challenge.

At the challenge, each team had seven minutes to present their toy, the process used to develop it and challenges faced followed by two minutes of questions. Judges are engineers and managers for Northrop Grumman and other local companies in San Diego as well as teachers and graduate engineering students from local universities. All teams received certificates of participation, with a select few receiving awards including an overall winner, category winners and honorable mentions.

The Ritzerz are not finished yet. The team of Amy McClellan (age 11), Clarissa Westover (age 11), Helen Frost (age 11), Jordyn Morgan (age 12) and Nivedha Ravi (age 11) are already considering ideas for another toy or a variation of the Pet Sitter for next year's challenge.

To learn more about the Toy Challenge, visit: www.sallyridescience.com/toychallenge

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