Eight-grader Grace Miller and her fellow 14 team members from Hermosa Valley School recently took home fourth place at the Los Angeles County regional Science Olympiad competition.
The team of middle school students started preparing at the beginning of the school year, spending time after school and often times on the weekends, brushing up on their science knowledge to prepare for the 23 science-related challenges that make up their final score in the competition.
“At the event it’s really nerve wracking and exciting,” said Miller. “You’re here and made it with all these teams- I can’t describe it. It’s just really exciting. It was really neat to be at regional.”
The students split into groups and perform challenges like identifying more than 100 rocks and minerals by sight and creating their own instrument and performing a song.
“It’s definitely a team effort,” Hermosa Valley teacher and team coach Kathy Spurrell said. “The kids worked as a team and had fun learning science while they did it.”
According to Spurrell, the team is very well-rounded and takes on every challenge including meteorology, crime busters, mission possible, anatomy and experimental design.
“The kids get to work on some of their favorite topics,” said Spurrell. “Our helicopter [flown by Josh Augenstein and Zach Mohr] had a spectacular flight of 82 seconds.”
For six of the challenges the team members create and test their project beforehand while most of the others are academic tests or problem solving at the competition. For the thermodynamic event, “Keep the Heat,” they had to build a device and predict the ending temperature of an enclosed beaker of hot water after 20 minutes another portion of the event was a written test on concepts of thermodynamics. In other events students had to build and test a helicopter, mousetrap vehicle and rotor egg drop. The academic events cover areas of science including physics, chemistry, biology and geology.
“Most of this knowledge isn’t even taught in school and some of the events are well beyond what they would have learned in the normal classroom,” said Spurrell. “To have a kid show up on a Saturday at school and work at improving their knowledge is amazing.”
For the “Sound of Music,” two team members, John Luce and Zach Mohr, built their own musical instruments beforehand and had to play two duets as well as answering questions about the science of music. One instrument was a homemade ukulele while the other was an instrument made out of PVC pipe. The pair played from Dvorak’s “New World Symphony” as well as “Somewhere over the Rainbow.”
“These aren’t yours and my science projects—the kids are making decisions, solving problems and sometimes being successful at it,” Spurrell said.
Before competitions, the team studies old tests and notes as well as rock trays and other resources to get ready for when they need the knowledge on the tip of their brain.
“We put months and months of work and effort into our team,” Miller said. “It’s great to see the turnout, and we’re all excited to get to state. I hope we’ll win at least one medal.”
For Miller, this is her third year competing at the state level. This is the sixth year the program has placed in the regional finals.
“The kids have so much enthusiasm, it’s more than just a scientific meeting of people,” said Spurrell. “There are 6th, 7th and 8th graders on the team and you wouldn’t necessarily know which ones are which. They work together and learn and go above-and-beyond. That’s the part that’s rewarding to me.”
The State Science Olympiad competition will begin in early April in Anaheim. ER