Top Five

The Big Brain Theory earns the top prize!

The student team at the FOCUS program at the Center for Alternative Instructional Resources (CAIR) is the grand prize winner of the Burns & McDonnell Battle of the Brains. The proposed exhibit, called “The Big Brain Theory,” earns the Grandview FOCUS program a $50,000 grant and the chance to work along STEM professionals at Burns & McDonnell to transform its idea into a $1 million exhibit at Science City.

“Our goal is to not only spark an interest in STEM, but to light a fire for a career in STEM,” says Ray Kowalik, chairman and CEO, Burns & McDonnell. “That’s why winning the competition is just the beginning. Now, the Grandview students get a front-row seat working with our researchers, architects, construction managers and engineers. By the time we open the exhibit, they will understand what it takes to bring their vision to life.”

Grandview’s winning proposal explores STEM from a human health perspective. It dives deep into a very complex topic, the brain, and uncovers how it controls literally everything we do as humans. One part of the brain tests your memory – while another regulates motor movements. The exhibit idea is an engaging discovery of how the brain affects our five key senses: taste, touch, hear, smell and vision.

Burns & McDonnell distributed more than $155,000 in grant money among the top 20 finalist teams. Each of the finalists received at least $2,500, with the top five winners receiving the following grant amounts:

  • $10,000 – “Math Mania,” Alexander Doniphan Elementary, Liberty School District
  • $15,000 – “City of Lights,” Tonganoxie High School, Tonganoxie School District
  • $20,000 – “The Magic of Magnets,” Olathe East High School, Olathe School District
  • $25,000 – “Magical Me,” Cordill-Mason Elementary, Blue Springs School District
  • $50,000 – “The Big Brain Theory,” CAIR FOCUS Program, Grandview School District

This year, participation in Battle of the Brains grew by nearly 60 percent, reaching record levels:

  • 7,000 students
  • 400 teachers
  • 820 submissions
  • 250 schools
  • 55 school districts
  • 75,000 online votes

Judges, comprised of STEM professionals from Burns & McDonnell and Science City, followed a stringent evaluation process to rank entries according to specific criteria, ranging from creativity and inspiration to how interactive and engaging the exhibit could be with visitors. People cast more than 75,000 votes for their favorite exhibit among the top 20 finalists, which accounted for 30 percent of the final scoring.


“For once I was able to find a truly project-based learning experience. This competition is oriented for student-centered, cooperative action. It was fantastic to watch a small spark grow.”

Lee Winslow, Belton High School