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Pop Quiz: Science Olympiad

Last year, I was asked (rather last minute) to help with our regional Science Olympiad. This is an event where teams from junior high or high schools compete in various science, technology, and engineering tests and challenges, earning points and medals for their team. It’s like a track meet for STEM, really.

I had some previous astronomy challenges to work with, and we’re limited to what can be done during the day and in a lab. Surprisingly, I managed to make a test that got a range of scores from the teams, so it seems I hit the difficulty level well. This year, I’m prepping early for two events, and I want to get this right. This means pondering how to hit a new topic, repeat it for a second even that is different enough, try to make it more “hands-on,” AND get the difficulty levels correct.

Have you take part in an academic olympiad of this sort? As a player, coach, or coordinator? What do you think of this sports-like approach to school topics in a competition format?

The Pop Quiz is a question posed to you, the Scholars of Doubt. Look for it to appear Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 3pm ET.

Featured image CC Jason and Chris Carter on Flickr.

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Nicole

Nicole

Nicole is an assistant professor of physics and astronomy at a small liberal arts college. Her home on the internet can be found at One Astronomer's Noise.

1 Comment

  1. October 25, 2013 at 5:38 pm —

    I am so excited by this post! Science Olympiad quite literally changed my life. I was a smart but disconnected kid with very few friends until middle school. I rarely did homework but did classwork and got good test grades so I usually had As and Bs in elementary school. I got to middle school and tanked (meaning I got a lot of Cs first quarter), because I didn’t do homework, I wasn’t organized, and I basically spent every waking moment reading in my own little world. My science teacher, whom I really respected, sat down with me and helped me figure out how to get organized, recommended some sciency books for me to read, and recruited me into Science Olympiad. I became pretty obsessed with it and came in after school at least three times a week and sat in this teacher’s room doing my homework and studying for my SciO events. At the first competition, I didn’t do very well, which was sort of a new experience for me–I’m usually pretty good at taking tests and it surprised me when I didn’t do well, but I buckled down and kept studying. I found some friends through SciO, and we all went for it hardcore for the rest of middle school and high school. Our school qualified for nationals when I was a junior and senior, which we had never done before. I completely credit Science Olympiad for teaching me how to study. I wouldn’t have gotten that from my regular classes. I mostly did events that involved memorizing large quantities of information (like identifying trees, fossils, minerals, etc.) and understanding disciplines like astronomy and anatomy. I worked so hard that to this day, I can still identify every tree on the SciO identification list ….. from 1996….. based on leaves or seeds. It’s not particularly useful information, but I learned how to organize large quantities of information in my mind. It was also my entrance into a whole world of people who value intellectual achievement. I met lifelong friends there, I became interested in other forms of academic competition, and I started buying into school. I’m not sure I would have done that with just the regular curriculum.

    I can’t discount the effect of competition to motivate students. It shouldn’t be the only source of intellectual stimulation, but it sure worked for me, and I see it work for my debate students. I didn’t just want to know enough about the topic to get an ‘A’ on the test, I wanted to be THE best. I wanted to get medals, and I wanted to help our team get to Nationals. It was also really, really fun.

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