The Collected Wisdom of Science Olympiad Coaches

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From: Mark Jungck

Subject: RE: [science-olympiad-coaches] Mission Possible/Impossible?

Sent: Sun 3/24/2002 7:11 AM
In the beginning, we were overwhelmed by this event also. As with all the building events, it takes several years to become proficient. Next year, these 9th graders will already have a feel for what doesn't work, and hopefully will not need to go down as many blind alleys. You should also be looking ahead and include some 6th and 7th graders on the build team so they can develop some expertise.
The life lessons (self-dependence, teamwork, hard work), the engineering (feasibility, reliability), as well as the science, on the way to building a competitive machine are on the whole, well worth it.
> Does it turn into a parent event as a result? Do you find it becomes prohibitively

> expensive to get materials?

All the building events are subject to parents/coaches being too involved. It doesn't help when, at a competition, you see them with their hands in the box, making adjustments, and the event supervisors say it is OK. Wright Stuff also tends toward flagrant non-student involvement. The only way around it is to emphasis "student built" at all levels of competition, with the inevitable DQ when it happens. You have to make sure your own parents aren't helping too much also. (It's easy for a parent to fall into that trap. ;) Give the kids acceptable phrases they can use to tella parent to "back off": "My coach said you can't touch my device that I'm using in competition, but that it is OK for you to build your own, and then we can test them".
On our limited budget, we've tended to reimburse about $50 for items that can be reused. The rest is scrounged, donated, or occasionally paid for by the student or parent.
Mission Possible falls neatly in line with my parenting philosophy of "Too busy or tired to get into trouble".
From: Carrie Ammons

Subject: Re: [science-olympiad-coaches] Involving lots of members

Sent: Sun 9/30/2001 10:42 AM
Hi all...
My team is growing as well...We have had a few organizational meetings with ~45 people showing up...and at our first official practice which was Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. we had 35 people show for the all day practice! (this was on our long weekend so several people were out of town).
My team has a lot of fun...we do several "social" events to get the team close. This started during the summer...we a retreat style sleep over where we do several team building events and then we do a few fun activities such some of the middle school activities like the balloon race and mystery architecture as quick competitions...We will usually have 3-4 sleep-overs during the year...including one at the school the week before regionals or states...the students really get a lot done while at the school all day and night...
Our town has a Christmas parade, so our team marches in the parade together, then have dinner and go bowling together. (Our local bowling alley gives a free game of bowling for every A on a report card...which we usually have quite a few of with this group of kids).
I host an invitational and invite up to 25 teams to the competition. Each team pays $50 and supervises one event. We run all of the events. I usually have a couple of outside supervisors do a few events so that we can always cover all of the events. Last year, like this year, I will have two separate teams competing from my school. I love the invitational because it gives my rookies an "idea" of what competition may be like. Plus the best part is it make them work even harder for competition...
When we go to states we spend two nights...and we have a tradition of going to the Mongolian BBQ for dinner the night before competition. We will go to the campus so the kids can find there rooms and get comfortable with the campus so they won't get stressed about getting lost on the day of competition. I give the kids a bag of "goodies" to entertain them...beach balls, cool pencils, little toys, different kinds of candy (smarties, kinder eggs with a toy inside...), different items from Oriental Trading.
At the end of the year we have a Sci Oly awards night. We do this pot-luck style and invite the parents as well. At this ceremony I hand out certificates, awards, trophies, pictures, senior gifts and gag gifts. I present certificates from all three competition (invitational, regionals, and states) and I put the places in each event on the certificate. I also give out several "awards"...the ribbons with different sayings from the dollar store (Most Spirit, Leadership Award, Good Sport, Great Effort, Math Whiz, I Can Tell Time (for the one who always comes in late), etc...they usually have a good variety and there are always some that just SCREAM a certain team member). The last two years Clio finished in the top 10 in Michigan (which I consider a great feat) so I have trophies made up for each member of the state team. I like to take at the end of the year I give each student a mini-album (or two) of my favorite pictures of them from practice, social events and competition. (I like to leave a disposable camera in our practice room and I also buy a few disposable cameras for competition day.) For the last few years I have purchased items with our team logo on it (a wizard) and given them to the entire team i.e. key chains and now we started the tradition of giving the seniors a mug with our logo on it...our local engraving store does a nice job and they weren't very expensive... Finally, the gag gifts...some of them are funny...relating to a story or certain event for each individual. I usually get 2-3 things for each team member depending on size or price...dollar stores are a great place to start for gifts. Obviously the award ceremony does cost a bit...but I think it is addition to our invitational I do a fundraiser all year long (selling candy/chips/muffins etc) to raise money for all of our supplies and expenses.
Those are my 2 cents...will maybe 4 cents...on this subject.
Hope it helps,


From: Denise Lyon

Subject: Re: [SOCoaches] coaches?

Sent: Tue 2/20/2001 9:44 PM
If MY recent posts seem to sound "overinvolved", first I apologize. My enthusiasm may come across as overinvolvement. I do make a conscientious effort not to be inappropriately involved in our kids' efforts. And second, I would offer my philosophy on coaching SO:
1. And this IS #1 - the kids on our team DO ALL THE BUILDING WORK and also DETERMINE THE DESIGN (see 2. below) on events where this is part of the event. Bridges and bottle rockets, for example, are the two I coach where this is the case. For Wright Stuff, they do all the work, but coming up with a design is not required. If someone got the impression that I (or my husband) was involved in a hands-on way with our STUDENT's models, please re-read my first post. My husband and I have been working on our own airplane model in order to "train the trainer" in an event where we were not experts. On the bridge, I did "insist" that they use better technique on the construction (i.e. sanding pieces to match before glueing) because learning to do such things properly is part of the education process. Last year, I didn't insist on this and let them do it their way. This time, they were impressed at the difference it made - lesson learned, I hope! I didn't sand or cut anything for them for their models. It was also inspiring (an important aspect) for the Wright Stuff kids to see my husband's finished model fly this evening (we are still working on the turning problem), even if it was poorly, since they had never seen anything like this before.
2. Regarding design "ownership": as a design engineer by profession, I frequently solicite ideas from books, other equipment or gadgets I've seen, other people including co-workers, etc. Getting ideas from other people does not make the final design anyone else's design (or responsibility) but mine. It is good engineering practice. We shouldn't have to invent the wheel to be allowed to use it. In many (most?) of the SO events, the kids have little or no background/experience from which to draw. I am coaching middle school students (our team has 7 6th graders, 7 7th graders and 1 8th grader). They are smart. They are internet-savvy. But they are also clueless about where to start in most cases. Division C students would need less guidance. I do feel it is my job to provide training in basic concepts, information, resources, suggestions (I try to make general suggesions and/or offer 2 or more alternatives and let them choose or phrase things as questions that lead them to understand the "problem" when the solution is too clear-cut to give alternatives) and general guidance. It is still up to them to do the work of mastering that event. I also feel I should do what I can to ensure *they* are familiar with and understand the rules (not just *think* they understand them because they read them once upon a time). That means I have to understand them first! Could I design and build a better bridge than the kids are doing? Yes. But I don't - it is not my bridge. I am still just as proud of their work and results. The amount of guidance necessarily varies from student to student. I have never seen anything in the SO rules or guidelines that says that kids must research/locate all the background information on their own and locate and/or order their own materials, only that they must learn the information and/or how to use the information and materials. My litmus test is to give them information and guidance enough to keep them from being lost and to get them "on track" and to help them get "unstuck" when necessary. Some students need some help with overall organization and scheduling while others are good at this. I also feel an obligation to point out anything that would DQ them. A good sports coach (sorry to use the analogy, but it works) actively teaches and trains and corrects mistakes and provides equipment and materials and knows the rules. They don't just stand around and watch the kids try to figure everything out on their own.
3. I use the term "we" and "our" rather loosely to mean our school's team. It doesn't mean that I regard the kids' models as mine and theirs together or that I did whatever myself. Plus, "we" is faster than typing "our team's students' ". :-)
4. Experience matters. Gathering information and ideas from sources such as this list helps newer teams, such as ours, make up for some of our inexperience. On events where our team did comparatively well last year, I am finding that I have needed to do much less coaching/teaching/supervising this year - especially where there is a returning team member in that event. I expect that over time, the kids will pass on more and more knowlege between themselves from one "generation" to the next. You can not convince me that kids new to bridge building will build a bridge under 20 grams their first year (well, maybe one in a thousand might - IF they put a ton of effort in over a long period of time). Either an adult was heavily involved or they/their team had some good past experience and examples to draw from. On the other hand, if I leave the kids who don't have any basis from which to start completely on their own (their initial paper idea for a bridge last year would have been a good example - it was a monstrosity :) ), the results usually would be frustrating and discouraging and unproductive and they will not likely continue with that event or even SO. Neither of the Wright Stuff students from last year wanted to do that event again this year. Only 2 6th graders, untainted by last year's poor showing, wanted to do it.
I am sure some will not agree with the level of involvement depicted above and will think that the kids should take greater responsibility for finding their own information, etc. I respect your opinion. There are a few kids out there who would take that much initiative and are equipped to take that much initiative. But, geesh, many of our students are 11 years old or barely 12! I also recognize that there are coaches who are inappropriately involved, especially in build events. Maybe I am naive (entirely possible!) or missed something (I sometimes skip posts not relevant to me), but I interpreted the posts I've read recently to be coaches looking for ideas or information sources to share with their students or to fill in their own gaps in understanding. I did not take it that the coach was using that information to design a device themselves. I hope mine did not come across that way.
If the kids were supposed to be totally on their own, SO should state that coaches are not allowed, since coaching implies teaching, training and *appropriate* (that's the word open to interpretation, isn't it?) assistance during the preparation phase. There should be an "adult coordinator" or some other such title for each team's adult-in-charge instead of "coach". I also beg to make a distinction between Divisions B and C and even between kids on the same team. Not that a coach should (or can?) make up the difference between a kid who just isn't "tuned in" to an event and one who is truly interested, but a coach should attempt to give help that *helps the student* fill in the gaps of experience and background, IMO.
Best regards to all,


From: Tom Sanders

Subject: Parents and Industry

Sent: Mon 10/16/2000 12:22 PM
To respond to Jim Fackert's request, here are suggestions to attracting more than just parents for helping with your SO team.
1) Stand up a be counted! Avoid feeling like a bridesmaid in comparison to the other teams at your school. For instance keep reminding- yourself, your team and your supporters that- your team is competing for NATIONAL honors. Few athletic teams at your school have the same status.
2) SELL, SELL, SELL ! Your team gets more attention when the public gets to see your team. Get an appointment with the local newspaper editor or other media and simply let your passion pitch the need for adults experts. Tell them you want some control over editorial content. That usually gets both their attention and respect. Reporters tend to regurgitate info without any substance. Getting to review the report before publishing will assure your passion and dedication (rhetorically) will be presented.
While your at it, put the ball in their court as a sponsor. LET them cover your teams training throughout the season. This is real human interest stuff. Pictures and bios on the team members and the coaches will make everyone proud as peacocks and stick with the program. Go ahead and play the "underdog" or "darling" team- that's great for creating support.
3) The Human Nature Factor- Some teams actually have "tryouts" for non-parent experts, no kidding. Human nature is a funny thing and the adult's competiveness will cause the dedicated types to put their best feet forward to win a chance. A cattle call presented in the newspaper legitimizes the need and seriousness. Call it the "Tom Sawyer Effect", it seems crazy but it works.
4) All parents are generally overworked. You may try offering some incentives or special honors for them to choose to help. Plaques, free sports tickets, etc.
5) The PTO or PTA organizations are always looking to support learning opportunities. My wife was a past president of a PTO and she was forever looking how to support (with funding) those viable learning projects. SO was a perfect place to spend their money. You must get in front present the need!
6) INDUSTRY- More selling, Create a professional presentation (your local newspaper can help here as part of their support) to present to local industry people. Do not be surprised that 8 out 10 doors do not open. But those 2 that do will be quite useful. "Though funding is always a concern, its mentors and coaches that will make the team florish." Since you are non-profit and your SO team is actually preparing kids for their careers, the industry decisionmakers will be more apt to listen to your plea. BTW, Take some of your team members along to help with the discussion, its a great bit of experience for them and "kids sell" (heck, look at Girl Scouts with their cookies and Cub Scouts with their popcorn!)
7) Fundraising- grants are the a way to go, try them first. For additional funds, try asking for donations. Don't be bashful (again, the newspaper or media really helps here), its your student's community they have a right to support their success. Try getting a travel agency to support with a trip and sell chances, resturants, Wal-Mart gift certificates, Grocery store raffles. Here in IN, a couple of MS run an indoor airshow and then sell Delta Darts afterwards to the student body. Quite a profit is made. They are exploring having a parent/guardian and student flying competition for additional funding and support.
8) All this is intertwined, the local industry and commercial folks have marketing depts. Ask them what would sell the concept to the community. They usually are quite aware of your local demographics and they can make realistic suggestions.
By all means, do not keep your team to yourselves. The more the public sees, the more support you get!
Good Luck!

Tom Sanders

Yesterday I had to jump off line to catch some meetings. Let me add a few more suggestions on attracting parents and industry.
9) Some national service clubs such as Rotary have mandates to assist in education endeavors. Contact the president and request an opportunity to make a presentation. The prez may opt to hear it one-on-one or as part of the normal business meeting procedure.
10) The school board can also be approached but save that card just in case you need funding for a trip to state finals or nationals.
11) If a college is in town, go see the Dean of Science. There may be some doors their that can help. This could mean that a few parents are needed as the car pool leaders.
12) Local electrical service or supply firms are great places to get support with either components or expertise (read HS Mission Possible here).
13) NEWSLETTER- there is an old adage that says, "The glue that bonds a club together is their newsletter." When you brief the students a parents at the beginning of the training cycle, either have a parent or yourself edit a newsletter to be sent to all involved. News bits, goofy occurences, cartoons

of the students- can all contribute to creating a tight social bond with the team and the supporters.

14) Begin to identify your people as part of the "network".
My final issue has to do with getting gym time for flying. Sometimes there situations where those officially connected with the gym are just too territorial. What alternatives are there?
a) Some churches have community centers or even gyms that you may gain access to.
b) Many Sundays have school gyms open. With a parent or mentor in charge of the flying, open the gym up and go grade some papers as they work.
c) With a little digging, you may locate a local AMA freeflight club who have an indoor flying site of their own. Start with the website and search for FREEFLIGHT clubs in your area. They will be thrilled to lend their assistance. Trade them some site time at the

gym if the can help.

Incidently there are some programs with "leader clubs" that may help support the team financially.
Good Luck, again!

Tom Sanders, Midwest Products


From: Michael W Osborn

Sent: Tuesday, September 11, 2001 9:58 AM

Subject: Re: [science-olympiad-coaches] Good SO Fundraisers

Leaf raking fund raiser (it won't pay for all of your S.O. needs but it will help).

Assemble 15 kids with rakes. Walk though neighborhoods and offer to rake leaves for home owners. We advertised using flyers so that people would expect us. Prices were negotiated for each yard (the teacher/leader's job). We were fairly unorganized and made about $1 per minute.I think if it were carefuly organized you could do well.
The results - students provide a community service to many people who were more than glad to pay us for the work. The work itself was a lesson in character education. Line the kids up at one end of the yard and rake as a group striaght across the yard! Gung Ho! Pile o fleaves were left by the road side for DPW crews to pick up. In other places we raked leaves on to sheets and toted them to where the home owners wanted them. It was great fun.
- Michael W. Osborn
From: Claire Kilgore

Sent: Friday, September 07, 2001 9:43 AM

Subject: Re: [science-olympiad-coaches] Good SO Fundraisers
We were planning a school wide Science Night, thinking we might charge admission or ask for donations, and maybe sell things like delta dart airplane kits. We would set up mystery arch. and egg drop contests and maybe pentathlon, and have demos of flight and battery buggy. BUT... the parent association is doing a fun night instead and have asked us to the do it without charging for admission. It was such a good idea, someone else thought of it!.

Claire Kilgore

From: Martin D Alderman

Sent: Friday, September 07, 2001 8:55 AM

Subject: [science-olympiad-coaches] Fundraising
Good Morning, List,
Two of our students took the initiative to get our school (team) insignia printed onto frisbee's. The whole team went out and very easily sold them to their classmates! Not a lot of income, but a couple hundred dollars is better than nothing, and the frisbees really do look good!
Martin Alderman

Sent: Thursday, September 06, 2001 7:58 PM

Subject: Re: [science-olympiad-coaches] Good SO Fundraisers
Our teams participates with several Boy Scout troops during October running a haunted cave. Our share was over $5,000 last year.
One fund raiser that appears to be good. Is giving out coffee at U.S. interstate rest stops during holiday weekend for donations. Couple thousand sounds excellent.
From: Mary Sanders

Sent: Thursday, September 06, 2001 7:16 PM

Subject: Re: [science-olympiad-coaches] Good SO Fundraisers
Lots of families get fundraised to death right now so you might want to think about timing. The car washes work great but best during the summer when the grime is easier to get off the cars and the ambient temps are comfortable. Beyond fundraising in the typical sense, why not explore more unique opportunities?

Make a presentation to your local service clubs such as Kiwanis or Jaycees. Many of these folks are local business leaders and they can connect you with either money or expertise. Be sure that you state, "We need either funds, professional mentoring or both to build a competitive team." This way, they are not allowed the option to not help.

Tom Sanders, Nat. Supr.
From: Karen Galley

Sent: Thursday, September 06, 2001 4:39 PM

Subject: Re: [science-olympiad-coaches] Good SO Fundraisers
We do the traditional fundraisers - car washes bring us the most money - food sales after school not so much. One year we sold holiday wrapping paper, but I bought most of it!! We have about 3 car washes/year and bring in at least $200 a time. This gives us money for our supplies, etc.

Karen Galley, West Windsor-Plainsboro High School - South, Princeton Junction, NJ

From: Tom Sanders []
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