The Collected Wisdom of Science Olympiad Coaches

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The Collected Wisdom of Science Olympiad Coaches

The Collected Wisdom of

Science Olympiad Coaches
A compilation of about three years of wisdom gleaned from the Science Olympiad Coaches e-mail group. Items were selected to aid a new coach get off to a quick start. Topics include suggestions to brand new coaches, selecting and motivating team members, recruiting parents/mentors, team organization, fundraising ideas, and coaching philosophy.
*** Note *** Science Olympiad events and rules change every year. Not all of the details about events contained in these messages necessarily apply to THIS year’s competition!!! Read the current rules!!!
Some useful web links:
National Science Olympiad Web site

Look at old messages from this list at

Also check The Wright Center website:

Collected and hack & slash edited by Mark Jungck,

Please let me know if I’ve attributed a message incorrectly.

Additions gladly accepted.

From: Anne Clouser

Sent: Fri 5/10/2002 6:53 AM

Subject: [science-olympiad-coaches] New teams: building, selection, and composition
Hello all,
I have listened with interest to the conversations about getting teams started and who is on your teams and I thought I would put in my two cents and just share how we do it. I took over our school’s team three years ago when it was about to fold for lack of someone to run it. This is what I have done with our team up to this point. I will break it into sections so you can read only what you are interested in.
EXIT INTERVIEWS WITH CURRENT TEAM MEMBERS: At the end of the year I interview each of the current team members. We talk about what events they want to keep and what events they might want to try new. I try to council them so that they are working on a set of events that would be likely to get them onto a competition team. We review why their strategy for the current year worked or failed. For the students that will be 9th graders the next year, I try to move them into events that will give them solid standing in the high school program in 10th grade. Students also fill out a questionnaire that tells me what they liked and didn’t like about our program and each year we learn from the comments and change. Their events are more or less set for the next year. (They can change if they need to, but it gives me a start point.) As the new SO year starts in September, these students go right to work in their mentor groups. I also ask at this time if the older student is interested in being called to participate in our summer field trip program?
SELECTION OF NEW SIXTH GRADERS: Right about this time of year we send letters to all the fifth grade teachers in our school system. We explain what SO is and the commitment it involves. I also volunteer to the teachers that the students that are most successful in our SO program are students that love science, love to learn, and have committed and involved parents. Each of the 16 fifth grade teachers in asked to nominate up to three students in their class that they feel would like to do SO. They may nominate an additional student if absolutely necessary. I occasionally have a student who was not nominated call me to ask if they may join, or a sixth grade teacher who suggests to a student that they should join . . . the answer is always yes, but it must be the student that speaks to me, not a parent.
Students must fill out a brief application that indicates their interest areas and asks if parents have skills they might contribute. The application states the committed dates that students must be available for competition (our in school scrimmage on Martin Luther King day, Solon Invitational, CWRU Regionals, Mentor Invitational, Ohio State Finals, and Nationals). Students and parents must sign this form. Students must also write a one page statement of why they think they would like to be on the SO team (this is often very telling and indicative of what they expect to get out of SO). They must also secure a written recommendation from a teacher. This might seem like overkill to some but it gets even the youngest students cognizant of the fact that relationships with teachers count now and will count even more in their future. All this said and done, any child that completes the application is on the team. Any student that takes the initiative to call or see me personally to get into SO, and completes the application, is welcome.
OPEN HOUSE FOR THE NEWBIES: The first week in June, we will have a parent student night for all the new kids. Older students and coaches will each bring a table display illustrating each of the SO events. There will be demonstrations and so on. Then I get a chance to explain to the students and to the parents the kind of commitment it takes to make a successful SO team member. We set high standards. You have to maintain a 3.0 in school because doing well in school is more important that being on the SO team. You have to always practice the golden rule because I will not tolerate any unkind word or deed. I have suspended students for bad behavior and to return to the team you must apologize to the injured party and to the entire team, as well as your mentor group leader and your coach. I take this issue very seriously. Students must respect each other, and their mentors. Mentors must respect students.
Students and parents are advised of the SO code of conduct and asked to read and sign it. We explain that we would love to have parents involved in bridges, bottle rockets and airplanes, BUT, if you want to fly, launch or break one you have to build your own! Students are told that is their responsibility to never let an adult build any part of your project, besides, experience shows that when an adult touches a kid’s bridge, airplane, etc., they generally break it.
Best of all kids get to try a plane, watch a bridge break, launch a rocket, see a crime investigated, and so on. It is a lot of fun!
And some kids come up to me at the end and say, it is not for me! Some kids come and say when do we start? It is a successful night if all of us, coaches, parents, and new students are on the same page.
SUMMER FUN: By May I have already secured enough grant money to run our summer program. Every Friday in the summer we run an all day field trip somewhere. For example we might go to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and have a rock and mineral class in the morning, Planetarium at noon, Astronomy in the afternoon, go to the birds in the late afternoon and return home. We go to the Lake Erie Nature and Science Center and do Amphibian and Reptile Class in the morning, learn a few trees in the park after lunch, and water quality, and native river species in the afternoon. We might take a day and learn trees and the Holden Arboretum in the morning and then learn about amphibians and geology as we hike Stebbins Gulch in the afternoon. We might go to a rock quarry were students can start their own rock collection. One night a month the local telescope run by CWRU is open in the evening, and bird walks are Sunday morning. Students built and maintain a 70 box bluebird, chickadee, and titmouse trail and the bluebird walk is open to everyone Sunday afternoons from April to September. Or local park district also runs great macroinvertebrate water quality programs for streams and ponds and we supplement by teaching the chemical tests. If you start looking around there are a lot of things available and many are free. The first years we did this, kids paid their own admission to museums but now I have grant money to pay for this. Parents drive and participate.
It is a busy summer for the kids and they get to make friends before they go off to middle school. Some kids quit right here because it is too much work! That is usually a good thing. Many kids begin to form definite interests, and I am always there taking notes. I also start to see which parents might be interested in becoming involved in coaching. This is where we get our new coaches every year. Those parents that are on every field trip and enjoy learning are the ones we are looking for.
SUMMER FIELD CAMP: The first week in August we run a week long field camp that is supported by the Martha Holden Jennings Foundation. We have to apply each year for funds. It is run on a 40 acre wetland and the focus is learning to observe and collect information. The students are presented with a hypothetical problem like “The old lady who owns this land is thinking of selling it to a developer because she is afraid of the taxes now that she doesn’t work anymore. She thinks there is nothing over there but a swamp. She would keep the land undeveloped if a way could be found to earn enough money off the land to pay the taxes and without working too hard.” Kids work in teams of 6 all week and on Saturday morning each team puts together a ½ hour presentation for the group and parents with their findings and an alternative land use proposal. They have to educate the old lady as to what is really over in this wetland and why it is important, they have to find a land use that will really work. The results are always interesting and parents and team mates ask a lot of pointed questions. If you want to know more about field camp I think the Martha Holden Jennings Foundation site has something about it or you can e-mail me personally. Only 24 can participate in field camp and again there is a selection process with an application and recommendations required.
OUT OF THE FIELD AND BACK TO SCHOOL: Our whole team meets every Monday in the middle school library where we have lots of big tables and computers. We meet for 2 hours as a group each week. Older students begin right away on the events they decided on last spring. Their mentor groups begin weekly meetings out side of class. These are smaller study groups with individual mentors. Usually mentor groups have no more that 12 students. New students begin with an overview course that covers all the events of SO, and we introduce two new things each week. The 6th graders are allowed to pick up to three events, and only one of those may be a mechanical event. Occasionally there is an exceptional student who can do more and that can be arranged. Occasionally there is a student that only wants to do one thing and that is ok too but we explain that it will be difficult and likely impossible to make the team. Here the coaches get to see not only what the students like to do but what they have some talent for. If they have the talent and begin to win a few ribbons for the event, often it quickly becomes something they like! Everyone is working toward the scrimmage in Jaunary where we divide to whole team (usually about 60 students) into two smaller teams and they scrimmage as individuals for ribbons and as part of the team for the trophy. There are individual ribbons for each event places 1-6 and medals for the outstanding 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th graders. Trophy goes to the winning team. This really gets everyone turned on. This year we hope to invite our high school to the scrimmage.
After scrimmage the two teams are set for the Solon Invitational held in early February ( a really great invitational here in NE Ohio ) and alternates selected. The 6th and 7th graders begin their preparation for the Mentor Invitational ( we take two teams there ) which happens in mid to late March. Everyone has something to look forward to and to work for. After Solon we use the scrimmage results as well as performance at Solon to select two teams for the CWRU Regionals. We do try to make one team the strongest in the hopes of qualifying for State. We also take the whole team with us and encourage the ‘alternates’ to observe. It is a nice time and the younger students get used to Case Campus. Likely they will be back the next year and it will be old hat to them by then. After Regionals it is time to get down to one team. Those that don’t make the state team, pitch in to help the 6th and 7th graders with their preparations for the Mentor Invitational. The state team begins to really focus in on their subjects, but they are still working along side the younger students in the mentor groups.
I have found it excellent to give these younger students an event of their own. The Mentor invitational is later than others, and nearby. It keeps the younger students with the team working on their events into March. It helps the team to feel like a team, with no one left out.
THE SCIENCE OLYMPIAD LAB: This is an off site lab that we put together with grant money and donations. It has a large center table with twelve seats, and storage for materials underneath. There are desks with four computers, microscopes, software, library, materials for most of the SO events, blackboard, TV, and a microwave for popcorn. Kids come to the lab for their mentor meetings either after school or in the evenings or on weekends. They may have an organized mentor meeting or they may walk up after school any Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday between 2:30 and 6:00 for individual study. My office is right next door (I am not a teacher) so they are always supervised. The kids call it the nerds clubhouse. Only SO students may use the lab. It gives those kids that may never have experienced being part of a team, a place that is theirs alone. They take a lot of pride in the Lab and it is heavily used, with 5-10 students there every day after school and 11 meeting with mentors held there each week. This has been great for the kids and great for the mentors. (All that SO stuff isn’t all over their kitchen tables 24-7! It’s in the lab.)
THE FUTURE: So, that is how we do it. In the future we hope to create a web site for our team and move a lot of our teaching onto our website so that students can access learning materials any time and so that courses of instruction can be maintained with less copy paper and less coaching hours. We hope to involve teachers from our school in the program. We hope to move the lab into the school and make SO part of our school curriculum.
None of this would work if it were not for a very supportive principal at our school, a very involved community, bountiful community resources (parks and museums), and a wealth of wonderful parents, mentors, and students. I think every coach on our team would honestly tell you that their participation in Science Olympiad has been a valuable and personal experience with excellence! Many of us no longer have our own children in the Middle School SO program, and some never did. All of us continue to mentor these most excellent young people. I know it is the best work I have ever done.
Anne Clouser

Chardon Middle School
From: Julie Dugan

Subject: Re: [science-olympiad-coaches] Brand New....

Sent: Sun 9/30/2001 10:42 AM
I think you need to consider the talents of the students you have to fully answer that question.  
There is a group of building and calibrate beforehand events:  Battery Buggy, Bottle Rocket, Bridge Building, Mission Possible, Wright Stuff.  The kids generally like these and get very excited about them.  These are some of the hardest and most time consuming events.  Mission Possible is considered among the hardest.  We didn't do that one for the first few years.  Some years I've found very few takers for some of the events -- depends whether the set of kids you're working with like working with their hands and are up to practice, practice, practice.    Sounds like you have a lot of help on Wright Stuff in your area.
Then there is a group of hands-on things that you can practice ahead of time,  but have to do anew the day of the event:  Balloon Race, Egg Drop, Mystery Architecture, Write It - Do It.  These are fun and less difficult than the first set to master;  to win is another matter.  Practically everybody on my team wants to do Egg Drop -- it's fun and messy.  Balloon Race is back this year at the National Level. but we have done it in Delaware for years.  I would really recommend that one also.  That one is fairly easy to master with enough practice.  Students in these types of events have to be able to handle the uncertainty of "doing it that day".  Some, I've found, are just not up to it.
Pentathlon is back this year and can be practiced and is meant especially for new teams, so be sure to enter that one.  It is supposed to be a combination of simple physical activities and simple science knowledge questions.
Then you have the group of observation and lab-related events:  Can't Judge a Powder, Science Crime Busters, Life Science Process Lab, Experimental Design, Metric Estimation.   These events can be mastered by putting in a lot of time in the lab and to some extent memorizing stuff.  Can't Judge and Science Crime Busters can be practiced together for the most part.   Depending how much you have done in your class, Experimental Design mirrors designing, performing,and writing up a lab.  However, the one hour time frame makes it one of the more diffulct events, I think.  Again, you have to have a group that can deal with the uncertainty of dealing with a new activity that day, rather than studying something beforehand.
Then there are what I consider the hard core study events.  This is where knowing where your students' interests lie may take you in a certain direction this first year.  
Dynamic Planet -- plate tectonics is the emphasis this year I think

Feathered Frenzy -- if you have someone who likes birds

Reach for the Stars -- astronomy buff

Road Scholar -- someone who likes maps and geography

Rocks and Minerals -- this is part lab because of the tests, but a lot of study and memorization is needed

Science of Fitness -- lots of physiology stuff

Water Quality -- again, some lab aspects, but a lot of studying on effects of pollution, etc.

Weather or Not -- if you have a potential hurricane/twister follower.

Take advantage of the Science Olympiad learning aids if you have the budget to do so, particularly the manuals.  There are a lot of kits available also, for Wright Stuff and Bridge Building.  I didn't know that for the first year or two and it would have helped a lot.
The Internet is a great resource and you should of course encourage the kids to do their own research.
I am just a parent helping out at our middle school, in about my fifth year.  We field a full team (enter all events), but but these are some of the things the teacher and I still look at when we assign events to students.
Julie Dugan

St. Ann's

Wilmington, Delaware
From: Mark Jungck

Subject: Re: [science-olympiad-coaches] Brand New....

Sent: Mon 10/1/2001 9:03 AM
I have to echo the suggestion to try and enter every event, just to get a feel for them. During our building years, we would have our kids walk into an event and put down our team name, just to get the participation point. It was surprising how often we got a score somewhere in the middle of the pack. We still do this with our Junior Varsity teams, and it's become a kind of chant to answer the question of "How did you do in xxxxxx?" with "H.O.M.E." :) (You can also use this approach to get a student you know would do well, but doesn't think they can, to make the attempt.).
You should also prepare your students to roll with the punches, as the volunteer judges for some of the events may not have seen the rules until the morning of the competition. (It happens, more often at Regionals). Such things can turn your sure-fire winner into a disqualification due to a different interpretation of the rules. If you do run across someone who would make a good judge, do a bit of recruitment and also let your Regional Director know.
Another thing to do is try to go to another region's competition, preferably before your Regionals (you might have to travel out of state). It will give you a glimpse of what goes on, and you may be able to get some "real" tests for the study events that your students could study (don't study them too hard, as yours will likely be different. You can also check out the building event's times, distances, and designs.
From Julie Dugan:

Subject: Re: [science-olympiad-coaches] supply list

Sent: Thu 5/9/2002 12:03 PM
I'm sure everyone has his or her own list.
This is what I have gradually accumulated over the 4 years I have been involved. This is for Div. B. Shop at yard sales & dollar stores, or e-bay or ask for families to donate their no longer wanted materials
Generic "stuff: -- masking tape, regular tape, string, rubber bands, paper clips, paper towels, spoons or spatulas, medicine cups , pH paper, red and blue litmus paper, phenolthphthalein (sp), hydrochloric acid, vinegar, stop watch, measuring tape, ruler, balance, scissors.
Mystery architecture, egg drop, write it /do it materials: : legos, k'nex, tinkertoys, erector sets, straws, scrap paper, bathrrom cups (3 oz), skewers for shish-ke-bobs, pipe cleaners, twisty ties, popsicle or craft sticks, and the like Access to generic stuff.
Experimental Design, metric estimation balls of all kinds, toy cars, loose change, magnets, nails, rulers, stopwatches, plastic drinking cups of all shapes and sizes, containers of all sizes and shapes like empty kleenex boxes, margarine containers, etc, yarn, empty tennis cans, junk people would otherwise throw away. I just kind of have a junk box that the kids can pull from and practice with. Also will draw from generic stuff and can't judge a powder and science crime buster supplies for salt, sugar, flour, etc.
Can't Judge a Poweder and Science Crime Busters -- all powders mentioned in rules. I like to make up smaller containers using empty prescription bottles (stripped of labels, of course), empty film canisters, etc -- some labelled for practice that can be easily refilled, others numbered and coded for "blind testing". Same with liquids -- usually don't rebottle liquids.
Study events -- we've built up a collection of books and videos and cd's; maybe you can get your librarian to purchase and then "borrow" for the Olympiad season. I include dnamic planet, id events (like birds, amphibs and reptiles), science of fitness, Weather, Reach for Stars, Rocks and Minerals. I also get coloring books, workbooks, etc. as well as textbooks. It's good study and practice aids.
Kits -- I use kits for Wright Stuff, easy ones to begin, Right Flyer next and Sorcerer if the kids are really into it (Midwest Products). Don't forget to purchase winder (15-1 best). For bridge, class kits from supply houses are usually no more than balsa and glue -- just get the balsa and glue in big packs. Kids can finetune when they're ready to . Coaches on this site have recommended some bridge design software -as a fundamental. Having struggled with bridge, I would probably agree. Absolutely need to invest in Rocks and Minerals set if you're going to get anywhere. Kit best way to go for robots (Lego Mindstorms) unless your kids are way talented.
Bottle Rockets -- lots of stuff on internet, Ohio State's Rockets Away program is good, both CD and manual.
Science Olympiad training manual for Road Scholar is very good. Also. life science process lab -- gets you an idea of what they might cover.
Pentathlon - this may vary with your competition. Delaware does things like frisbee throwing, jump rope, throwing things into hoops on floor, hitting things with wrong end of broom, plastic golf clubs, etc, doing things in and around traffic cones. also, puzzles, tanagrams, etc.
Hope this helps.
From Mark Schaefer:

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