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Young Scientists Prep For Regional Science Olympiad

POSTED March 3, 2010 2:15 a.m.

Oakdale student scientists from the junior high and high school are gearing up for the 24th Annual Stanislaus County Science Olympiad on Saturday, March 6. They will be competing amongst more than 550 students representing area junior and senior high schools in the daylong event.

The Oakdale teams are led by science teachers and get extra help from parent volunteers. The Oakdale High School team is led, once again, this year by science teacher Cameron Nickerson. Teacher Phil Herrick is also a coach this year. The Oakdale Junior High School team is led by district science teacher Anne Marie Bergen.

Nickerson said that the week leading up to the event has been “a little crazy.” He said that when the teams began assembling earlier this year, there were more than 20 students trying to fill the 15 slots for the primary team, “Oakdale Gold.” He said they made some “hard decisions” and he felt confident that OHS would do very well at the regional competition and their goal was to advance to the state competition and bring home medals. Last year, OHS advanced to state competition.

However, recently the OHS coaches got notice that several key players would be unable to participate and the team has been trying to recover.

“We were going to go with a full team and a half, now we are shorthanded and our second team is reduced to two (students)…” Nickerson said. “Still, there are quite a few veterans on the team, and we are very lucky to have such intelligent, dedicated people remaining that they are taking on Herculean tasks at the last moment. So leaning on the strength of the veterans and the enthusiasm of the new team members, I am still looking forward to bringing home lots of medals, and I don’t think State is out of reach again this year.”

From OJHS, there will be two full teams comprised of seventh and eighth graders, totaling 30 students. Bergen reported that each student is competing in two to four events.

Seventh grader Mabel Wong is planning to compete in “Trajectory,” where she’s built a catapult that will launch a tennis ball and it must hit a target. She’s also doing the “Bio process lab” that focuses on biology, the proper use of microscopes, identifying things under the microscope lens, genetics and more.

Seventh grader Rachelle Pabalan is competing in “Bridge Building.”

“The basic idea is to build the lightest, raised bridge to hold the most weight,” she explained, adding that there is a lot of trial and error.

She said that she had to build it, test it, and work on those areas that fail but not to stray too much from her main design. She’s also using examples from past winners.

Pabalan said that balsa wood is best because it’s the lightest, but she has to add cross-supports and use the proper glue. The bridge must bear about 30 pounds of weight suspended from its center.

She said that she competed in Science Olympiad throughout elementary school and really enjoyed it. Plus, now there is the added benefit of having extra credit from her science teacher for participating.

Other events include “Battery Buggies” where students assemble a battery-operated vehicle that must travel an exact distance. “Road Scholar” has to do with reading maps of all kinds and understanding their symbols and features. There are also categories in Fossils and Ornithology where students must know how to use field guides to identify different fossils or birds. Bergen had some bird experts talk to her students and worked with them on identifications. “The Wright Stuff” is where students build rubber band powered airplanes made of balsa wood that must stay in the air the maximum amount of time.

Nickerson noted that expenses are lower this year and said that the high school teams have had money generously set aside from both School Site Council and Academic Boosters. He also said that he has enthusiastic parent volunteers, and “that helps tremendously, especially on event day.”

The Regional Science Olympiad consists of individual and team events that encourage learning in biology, earth science, chemistry, physics, problem solving and technology. Some events require knowledge of scientific facts and concepts, while others rely on science processes, skills or application. SCOE event coordinator Barbara Little reported that several events require students to build devices prior to the competition, such as Mousetrap Vehicle and Wright Stuff. For Mousetrap Vehicle, students design, build and test a vehicle that uses mousetraps as the propulsion energy.

The event this Saturday begins at 8:45 a.m. and will end with an awards ceremony at 3:15 p.m. inside the Warrior Arena gym at California State University, Stanislaus, One University Circle, Turlock. The public is invited to attend and admission and parking are free.

The following junior high/middle schools are participating in division B: Oakdale, Blaker-Kinser, Hart-Ransom, Hart-Ransom Charter, Hickman Charter, Our Lady of Fatima, Roosevelt, Salida, Savage, St. Stanislaus, Turlock Christian, Ustach, and Yolo.

The following high schools are participating in division C: Oakdale, Big Valley, Central Catholic, Central Valley, Ceres, Connecting Waters, Davis, Denair, Downey, Enochs, Johansen, Modesto Christian, Modesto, and Turlock Christian.

The top three teams in division B and division C advance to the Northern California (Nor Cal) Science Olympiad State Finals. This year’s state Science Olympiad will be hosted by the Fresno Region and is scheduled for Saturday, April 17 at Clovis North High School.

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