The annual Science Olympiad competitions have started this weekend with 7,000 teams competing from all across 50 states, ranging from elementary school through to junior high and high school. The regional winners will go on to compete in state and then national competitions. The Science Olympiad organization has fostered interest in science education for years and continues allowing students to experience interactive hands-on science projects. Students can compete in various scientific disciplines such as biology, chemistry, earth science, engineering and physics through activities such as building a rotor egg drop, breaking codes, diagnosing a disease from being given various symptoms and even identifying different fibers found in a fake crime scenes.
The Science Olympiad started in 1982 when the Regional Science Consultant for Macomb County Intermediate School District in Michigan, Dr.Gerald J. Putz, invited State Supervisor for Delaware Department for Instruction, John C. Cairns, to share the Science Olympiad program with Macomb County Educators. Together they modelled the Delaware Science Olympiad using inspiration from similar programs in North Carolina and Pennsylvania. Two popular and successful workshops later led to the planning of a competition at the Lawrence Institute of Technology in 1983, and then another at Oakland University in 1984. Both tournaments were so successful Putz and Cairns were able to find sponsors for the following year for the first official Science Olympiad National Tournament in 1985. It was hosted by Michigan state University with 17 states participating.
The mission of the Science Olympiad is to improve the quality of science education by creating a technologically educated workforce and giving recognition for outstanding achievement. The Organization also wishes to foster a passion for learning science and to teach emphasis on achieving excellence and teamwork. The hands-on approach is a different way for students to learn and it is more interactive. It improves the quality of their education and sparks interest as students can experience science first hand rather than from a text-book, making science education more appealing. The Science Olympiad is not so much about the actual competition, but rather for getting students involved and strengthening their skills. Mike Lehman, chemistry teacher at Neenah High School in Wisconsin said of the competition “it gets them all excited, and fulfills their need to do more.”
Dean of the University of Wisconsin-Marathon County, Keith Montgomery says the competition has much educational value which is one reason that the university often hosts the regional Science Olympiads; this will be their seventh year. Unfortunately, due to low funding and budget cuts, some schools were forced to drop out of the competition, so their students were not able to participate. Other schools that have the necessary funds have had to fundraise to be able to enroll in the competition. Grand Haven High School’s head coach, Michael Reed, says that if its Science Olympiad team makes it to Nationals this May, they will have to travel from their hometown in Michigan to the Nationals in Florida which will be a more expensive trip than last year’s trip to the Nationals in Ohio. Reed states that while the community gives money to help cover expenses, the students still have to pay a fee and even then there might not be enough money. “For any coach, fundraising has become a part of the job now.” For the teachers and students that are able to attend the 2014 Science Olympiad competition, it is sure to benefit them whether they lose or win. Interactive learning allows for students to experience science up close and personal thus creating an educational outlet for future scientists.
By Lian Morrison