Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Science Olympiad National - Preliminary Report

The Bell Street Middle School Science Olympiad team just arrived home Monday night after a long (but good) and tiring 6-day trip. It took two full days on a bus to get out to Wichita, two days there for the competition and festivities, and two full days on the bus again to get back. We had 17 students (15 primary and 2 alternates) competing and 12 chaperones/coaches on the trip. This blog will not include much detail (look for that in subsequent blogs).

So how did our team do? For the specific scores, see www.soinc.org. Our kids placed 47th out of 60 teams ... a ranking that we are very proud of given the level of competition at nationals. Our kids were competing against teams from many schools with very different demographics from ours, from communities with a much higher per-capita income, education level, tax base, etc. Some of the other schools in the competition were very similar to us, but many of them were charter schools, math and science magnet schools, and private schools. Just as a for-instance, one of the high school teams at nationals spent twice as much ONE of their 25 competition events as our total participation cost (materials, transportation, lodging, food). Looking through that lens may help to understand how we are tremendously proud of our kids.

Reflections on the trip:
  1. Next time, take ear plugs. One of the great advantages of charter bus transportation is that most come equipped with DVD players. The ability to show movies on a bus trek that lasts 2 full days (18+ hours on the road each way) makes the process considerably more tolerable for middle schoolers. Sometimes, though, it would be handy to be able to reduce the volume or shut it out completely (read on for reasons why).
  2. I can now say I've seen "High School Musical". I'm glad I saw it, but I don't care ever to see it again. It's got a good message (imagine an after-school special on steroids), but the ending was obvious 15 minutes into the story. It's healthy for middle school teenagers to hear that they should care less about what their friends think is cool and more about what they are good at and created for (purpose-driven, anyone?). Those ear-plugs would have come in handy during the numerous times when a small group of the kids insisted on singing songs from HSM to pass the time on the bus.
  3. Wichita State has a beautiful campus. I failed to make the connection with the aviation industry until we got there, but several prominent aircraft manufacturers are located in Wichita (e.g. Cessna, Beechcraft-Hawker). There are sculpture intstallations all over campus ... some whimsical, some beautiful, some quite interesting, and a few that are just plain weird.
  4. The speaker for the opening ceremonies was a WSU graduate who went to work for Scaled Composites (Burt Rutan's group) and was the head of the Spaceship One project. His talk was full of humor and practical application of science from low-tech to high-tech. He told a story of how they encountered some surprising loss of laminar flow in an early test flight of one of the vehicles and needed to troubleshoot. He then said, "So we built a wind tunnel," upon which he showed a slide of the control surface mounted on a pick-up truck and driven fast. His point: you don't have to have fancy equipment to do cutting edge research and development.
  5. I hate cell phones ... well, not really. What I hate is trying to talk on a cell phone while riding on a bus with a movie playing. The word that best describes this frustration is "nnnggrraaahh!"

I'm not sure if I'll blog this any more. I'm still trying to catch up on my sleep and my digestive system has yet to return to normal. I do have one final thing to report that makes us extraordinarily proud of our team. We don't have a perfect team by any stretch of the imagination ... and there were some things that happened that strained relationships among team members during the competitions. I don't know of any team (sports, music, project, community action, business, etc.) that doesn't encounter some degree of tension. It's a part of the team dynamic when people work together. The only time you don't encounter conflict is when nobody cares. Back to the point, though ...

In addition to all of the event awards given at the closing ceremony, there is also an award given to the team that best exemplifies the spirit of Science Olympiad. It is voted by the individual event supervisors. The Bell Street team won this award the first time they went to nationals in 2003. This year our team won it again, but it gets even better. For the first time in the history of the spirit award, the vote was unanimous. All 25 of the individual event supervisors -- independent of each other -- voted for Bell Street. We're still trying to get our brains around that ... and trying to figure out how to make sure that we pass that spirit along to the future Bell Street Science Olympiad teams.

All for now ...


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