Science Olympiad

Posted on in Todd Talks by Todd Johnson

My family has been ever so lucky to have a program in our school district called Science Olympiad. “Sci Oly,” as the cool kids call it, is a competitive program for middle school and high school children based on the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) disciplines.  

I had never heard of Science Olympiad until my oldest child reached 6th grade. That is the first opportunity for children in our school to participate. She came home with a flyer and wanted to try out for the team. I was excited to say the least because not only was it an opportunity for her to network with other kids, she would be learning at the same time.  

The concept is simple. Much like the Olympics we are all familiar with, there are different events for students to participate in, where they will compete against other students from other schools. But instead of sporting events like swimming, gymnastics, skiing, or track and field events, they face off against each other with knowledge. The events rotate and change a little year-to-year, but some of the events you might find at a Sci Oly competition are: Rocks & Minerals, Flight, Meteorology, Can’t Judge a Powder, Storm the Castle, Roller Coaster, Wheeled Vehicle, Code Busters, Dynamic Planet, Road Scholar, and many others. 

Students can participate in many events or just one. It’s usually up to the students and their coaches to determine the best fits and work load for each student, but often competitors will be practicing for many different events and then narrowing down their best fits through invitationals. Invitationals are basically scrimmages. Here, the host school will hold a competition to let students practice against other schools. The invitationals that our school went to usually have 20-30 different teams participating. And the schools aren’t separated by size and/or type at all. You could have huge public schools competing against small private schools, and prep schools and so on. They are only divided into divisions. The B division is middle school (grades 6-9) and C division is high school (grades 9-12).  

There are two types of events: testing events and build events. The test events are off limits to viewers, and they would be boring to watch anyway because it’s just students or teams of students taking tests. The build events are the spectator-friendly events. My favorite this year has been Flight. For the Flight event, a team of two students has to build a plane from wood, glue, a plastic propeller, and Mylar. Last year this event was called “Electric Wright Stuff” because they had an electric motor they could use for their planes. This year the “engine” is a rubber band. The plane is built ahead of the event and tested and adjusted during practices. Once at a competition, the plane must pass inspection, meaning it has to fit in a pre-determined sized box and it can’t weigh more than an also pre-determined weight. The engine is measured and weighed separately as it too has strict specifications it must adhere to. Once inspection is passed, the students usually have a set amount of time to fly their plane, make adjustments and record their two longest flights. The longest flight is the only one that will count. Some of the adjustments that can be made are the number of times they wind the rubber band, where in the gym they release their plane, and how they release it. Meaning do they hold it above their heads and let it go or do they release from chest height? I even saw one team lay on the floor to release their plane because it would gain elevation quickly and hit the ceiling or other obstructions in the room. The other part of the scoring for Flight is a “Flight Log.” Students may log at least 10 practice flights and times for a full score in this event.  

Once all the events have completed, the scores are tabulated. Then comes the payoff: The awards ceremony! Each event will crown a champion. The number of places that receive a medal vary from competition to competition, but generally the top 4 places receive medals. I have seen invitationals that awarded medals to the top 10 finishers! The final awards at each competition are for the overall results. This team award adds up all the scores from each school and ranks them on their overall performance.  

Seeing the beaming faces and hearing the clanking of medals around the necks of these kids is probably more rewarding than any award I have personally received. My favorite memory this year so far has been watching kids from many different schools, states, backgrounds, and cultures dancing together on the stage at the awards ceremony before all the awards were announced.  

These kids are our future. The future is bright.