The Collected Wisdom of Science Olympiad Coaches

Subject: Re: [science-olympiad-coaches] Who is SO for?

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Subject: Re: [science-olympiad-coaches] Who is SO for?

Sent: Wed 5/8/2002 9:54 PM
Interesting thread on what types of students make an S.O. team at different schools.
In our area there are teams made from gifted programs. A few that must take a test to make their teams. Most are made from whoever wants to join. All schools appear to have large number of brothers and sisters in program from same family.
From my experience IQ and interest in science are secondary when it comes to doing well. The latter being a important first step. I find many of these students in general do not understand the team concept at first. Others really never realize how it can help themselves. Perhaps, it is more difficult for them to grasp the importance compared to the way a physical sport teaches!
Regardless of how a student originally made the team at beginning of year. In my humble opinion, how well they do at end of year can be summed up by amount of dedication. With few exceptions hard work over comes everything else when it comes to the top placings. As an example, I have noticed most all of brighter seventh graders place higher at early invitationals. By end of year, nearly half of those more gifted children are passed up by more dedicated children.
Perhaps I am wrong but it seems to win the State contest as a team. It takes fair to excellent smarts, good team work bordering on what appears to be team mate pressure and almost everyone showing strong to superior dedication. To win a individual event it takes just out working others. Or put another way, being prepared to point of taking luck out of the equation.
David Nohe []

Sent: Wednesday, May 08, 2002 8:13 AM

Subject: Re: [science-olympiad-coaches] Throwing in the Towel
"I'll say it again...if you want a "great SO team" Johnny doesn't get on the team. That's logical."
I would disagree with this statement. In the past 5 years I have had at least 2 special education students(and up to 4) on my team each year. While not gaining a #1 or #2 team placement, we have succeeded in placing in the top 7 teams at our state competition each year. For 3 years now, we have had at least one special education student medal in an event at science olympiad. It perhaps is also important to note that these students aren't the top picks from a student body of 100's or even 1000+ as is the case in many large schools, but good representation of students from a student body of only 140 rural students that are participating in several extra-curricluar activities. SCIENCE OLYMPIAD IS FOR EVERYONE!!!!  While realizing that there should be special programs for the academically gifted, SCIENCE OLYMPIAD IS NOT THAT TYPE OF PROGRAM. I feel as though some people out there have lost track of the real mission (see below - straight from the SO website) of science olympiad - pushing that mission aside in order to attain the glory of the almighty WIN.
From: David Nohe

Subject: Re: [science-olympiad-coaches] Throwing in the Towel

Sent: Wed 5/8/2002 6:13 AM
I'm going to carefully enter this conversation, since in the past I've caused turmoil. However, there is merit in including "Johnny". I'm anything but a bleeding heart liberal, but I do recognize that "Johnny" often feels left out of the more exciting things like football, chess club ;-), Math Counts, Knowledge Masters, SO, OM, etc. because of his limitations. Trust me, it isn't lost on him that most of us don't think of him as being capable of much. I suppose if you're looking for a "great SO team that's going to win medals", then you exclude him and let the academically gifted excell (as they get to do in every other "extra" program that is developed for them). And I don't mean that in a bad way...I'll say it again...if you want a "great SO team" Johnny doesn't get on the team. That's logical. Several years ago I tried to get SO started in my school with absolutely no support or success. Two years ago, my principal told me that I had to develop a science elective class to help with absorbing the number of kids we had coming up to us in the 8th grade. Here was my chance! I started SO as a class. Since I taught an accelerated science already (where 8th graders got 9th grade credit since it was the high school course) and I had had my fill of the "precocious and gifted" who looked down their noses at every other student ( personal snideness is coming through...this doesn't imply all gifted are little snots...just the ones I've had over the last few years) :-) I told our scheduler to not assign students to my class just because they were gifted (as my principal wanted). I told him to simply input the students who requested to be in SO (they get a preview during an "electives assembly" of what it's all about while in the 7th grade along with all the other electives) and then let the computer select me 18 kids. I wanted a random draw.
Well, I've never had a "great SO" team if you judge that by medals won or placement at Regionals or State (we went both years so far). Part of it is me because I'm still learning how to manage a lot of this (I have zero budget and zero physical support, except in wright stuff). But let me tell you about a couple of my team members.
There was Cecil, my little (ha! he's 5'11", 185 pounds and still 13) gang banger who spends a lot of his time hitching up his pants because they droop so much...that's probably why it took him 10 weeks to build the simplest airplane possible. However, everytime he would go and test fly it in the gym, he would come back and couldn't stop talking about how it did this, and did that, and how he's got a better idea now that he's tested it or after seeing everyone elses plane at regionals, chatter, chatter, chatter...I wouldn't trade all of that chatter and rocking back and forth while grabbing his crotch for a million medals. Did he place? No. Did he get fired up and feel special? Damn right he did. I heard him telling other bangers how much fun my class was. Made me feel special.
Tony is real special. He's affected by fetal alcohol syndrome. At first he didn't fit in very well...gosh, he has a temper...fortunately, "he's small and wouldn't be able to do anyone any physical harm if he let loose" says his special ed teacher. We saw that temper a few we had a "sit down"...Tony told us of how he always felt left out, felt stupid, felt unable to do anything on his see, they know what the real deal is. The class...even my crotch grabbing, pant hitching, mad dogging, gang banger...agreed to listen to Tony when he offered ideas, or asked to try something on his own, or wanted to work alone. Tony never actually became very good at anything as an individual...unless you wanted to know what the rules said about an event. You see, Tony loved to read. If someone had doubts on what the rules said, Tony would pull them out, read them aloud, interpret them, and then proceed to point his little boney finger at the "workers" and tell them they should have known that information. If they still didn't understand, he would make a great production of going to their aid and showing them what it meant. Now, I have to admit...there were times that Tony was placed in time out, or asked to go do some menial organizing the popsicle sticks type of task because he was having one of "his" days, but all in all, Tony was a real asset...he became my time keeper (we have a running joke in the class, which Tony has joined in...he would always tell people that their 7.45 second bottle rocket flight was 7 minutes and 45 seconds now everything is done in "Tony time" and everyone still laughs about it, even Tony...(we aren't making fun of him...he now knows how to read time off a stopwatch, but still insists on making a joke out of timing things). Tony never actually competed in an event at either regionals or state...but, he went as my manager, and my rule book keeper, as a cheerleader for the others. Would I trade that experience for a million medals...not on your life. I learned how to tell "Tony time" and that's enough for me.
Well, I've gone on long enough...I had "special" kids from both ends of the spectrum. The gifted kids that I did have in the SO class learned to respect the not-so-gifted (another asset that will make them great later in life...what a concept! Smart AND kind and understanding!), average kids, and special ed. I never was looking for this "great team" to win a lot of medals. But, I did have a "great team"'s just a different kind of "great" than yours (and I'm not saying your "great" is bad...just different). I've just made the decision that if SO is made tougher for the sake of the gifted, then we will just still have to do the best we can, and the best we can do is always in the spirit of teamwork...where "snotty gifted kid" is helped by "fetal alcohol syndrome kid" and "gangbanger" listens to "geek" when he explains something and "geek" steps aside to lets "ADHD kid" sink his hands into a project. It's really all about them, isn't it?
Let the good times roll.

From: Emanuel Blosser

Subect: Re: [science-olympiad-coaches] WS Questions

Sent: Tue 4/23/2002 2:25 PM

The committee needs to ask themselves what the objective of the Wright Stuff event is, to promote a hobby, or have the students doing science and physics.

Dear Bryan and all,
I work with quite a number of Ph.D. physics people that can explain plenty to me but can't put a thing together so that it actually works.
As Wright Stuff is now written it is hard to imagine trophy level success without building quite a few planes probably over the course of several years. The problem discovery and problem solving that go on as the learning curve develops for this are pure science. There is lots of literature to discover and read, materials to understand, tooling to develop, and problems to solve with personal technique. These are important scientific skills besides the actual flight logs and aerodymanic studies. The inovative thinking that has to be imployed to figure out how to get your figure and eye coordination right to lay the paper on the wing gets kids on the edge of what they know how to do and makes them learn to think and be inovative beyond the edge of what they are now capable of. Scientific technique has to understand the limit of possiblities and know how to stick one's mind beyond that limit and then build the world out to support that. Wright stuff as it is now written provides kids with lots of oppurtunities to meet that edge and learn how to think their way through it. Sure they also end up with some very good modeling skills, that they could apply to a relaxing hobby later in life if they wish. Or they could continue to apply them to the development of indoor free flight which when you're looking at 30+ min flight times is in an arena of inovative development that is somewhere way beyond a "relaxing hobby." 30+ min!? That's intense.
How does a 30 min indoor free flight contribute to society, science, and humanity? I don't know. Never tried it myself. Our $10M/year National Lab when asked how our research into exotic radioactive elements contributes always says we don't know, except that all of the applications of scientific knowledge that exist today are based on research done 50-75 years ago that had no appearent application at the time.
To be successful and advance to the next level in S.O. a team has to compete strongly in a wide variety of disciplines. Within each discipline a wide variety of resources and skills have to brought into play to have a competitive project. A lot of bases have to be covered with only so many players. I know of no academic, business, government, industrial, or even entertainment group that doesn't face that kind of reality had have to find the inovative way to make do and succeed with less than what would be nice. To face the problems that S.O. competition creates develops the wide angle vision that can be the basis of successful leadership careers in almost every field.
None of these projects require rocket science. Lots of work, solid curiosity, basic cleverness, and the zeal to be better than last year will master any of these events. All of these events are set up so that there is a basic field of activity defined which when you step into doubles into a vast jungle of subleties that must be developed into a working knowledge. Learning how to jump into the jungle of a problem and think through whatever seems to be in the way of a solution gets kids excited when they realize they can do it. Heck, it gets me excited. When the kids complain about how difficult or stupid some aspect of the rules seem I say,"Doesn't matter your job is to figure out how to solve the problem." "But this isn't our subject." "Doesn't matter. Learn what you need to know to solve this problem." Once I get them focused on getting through with their thinking, they start seeing light at the end of the tunnel and start learning things they had no background or experience with.
At that point then they are over the edge, learning the process of real inovation. Our Wright Stuff crew has a ton of stories about figuring out all the little stuff. Why do we have to know this and I didn't know we had to know that too? They just hit 1:42 for the first time (7 planes in two years) and are looking at cracking the 2 min milestone by states on Saturday. They have learned real science. They are excited.  The trophies will all go to better times than that, but so what. They'll do better next year. Much of what they learned wasn't aerodynamics. What they learned most was problem solving when they didn't even like the problem.
With warm regards,

Emanuel Blosser, Haslett High School

From: Gila Jones

Subect: Thanks [SO recruitment -mej]

Sent: Sun 4/21/2002 8:49 PM
Many thanks to those who posted opinions about recruiting parents. Here's what I sent out (actual names removed), which anyone may use in the future for their own recruiting if they wish.
Lots of extra-curricular activities are starting up at ZHS! It looks like next year will be quite exciting. One new activity that's gearing up for full speed next year is Science Olympiad. Mr. X, ZHS science teacher, has begun forming a student team that will participate in the 2003 regional Science Olympiad.
Participation in activities such as Science Olympiad look VERY good on a college application, and our children are fortunate that Mr. X has started putting a team together. However, he can't do it without the help of parents and the community.
Mr. X is looking for volunteers to help coordinate the various events in which the students have indicated interest. Those events are listed and briefly described below. Volunteer coordinators can be parents, family friends, grandparents, or other relatives; so please pass this request on to others you know in the community.

The job of the coordinator is to help Mr. X and the students obtain materials and other resources for their projects. Volunteers who have experience or interest in engineering or science can be particularly helpful, but knowledge in these areas isn't really necessary. The volunteer time commitment need not be large.

Please let me know if you have questions or would like to help, or contact Mr. X directly at ZHS can't do it without you!

The students have expressed an interest in forming teams to compete in the following events:

[ descriptions and names of events snipped ]
From: Denise Lyons

Subject: Recruiting Parents

Sent: Wed 4/17/2002 9:29 PM
IMHO, the first step is to recruit parents to help coach specific events. Maybe the teacher wants to coach certain events himself and you'll only need to ask for coaches for the ones left. Personally, I would ask for parents with backgrounds in science-related areas to volunteer as event coaches (with specific event(s) to be assigned or agreed upon with the teacher). Specifically ask for engineers, medical doctors/nurses, chemists, zoologists, lab technicians, geologists, pilots, or modeling enthusiasts (especially airplane modelers) or parents with similar backgrounds or interests. You can always ask for more help later. If you get 2-4 volunteers, you've got a good start. Once they are oriented and assigned events, let the parents make a list of resources they need which you can then request. It is WAY too much for one teacher to figure out all the resources he'll need for all 23 events! If the teacher already has a list of some specific resources he wants, I'd say go ahead and ask for those now.
Idea: What about an S.O. Donation Tree? At our school, each teacher has a tree (poster-like thing, but a small tree branch would work nicely) on or beside their door. There are apples on the tree. On each apple is written an item the teacher needs or wants donated for the classroom - everything from pencils to kleenex to software to VCR or whatever. It helps if the approximate cost is written in for less familiar items. You can also write suggestions on where to get the item on the back (or front, if you write small!) of the apple if it is something other than normal school supplies. Any parent who is willing to donate something "picks" the apple and returns it with the requested item. Of course, we are an elementary/middle school, so parents are in the halls more to see the trees than they would be in a high school. If you have any kind of open house or other event at the school, maybe you could set out the tree(s) then.

Denise Lyon,

From: Mark Jungck

Subject: Recruiting Parents

Sent: Wed 4/17/2002 11:38 PM
I second Denise's suggestions. I would also suggest requesting a team Mom/Dad to help with administrative/clerical/communication/ gofer/cheerleading duties. This person would do things such as maintain a list of contact info (e-mail, phone) for the parent coaches and distribute relevant info to them; draft people to do jobs delegated by the coach (fundraising, setting up the "SO giving tree", typing up a roster/other stuff, making sure kids have the ziplock bagged stuff they need before walking into events); keep a cheerful attitude even when the plane zooms into the wall, the battery buggy crashes, and mission possible blows up; make sure a banner gets made.
One thing to do would be to look at the coach's manual so that you have an idea of what the events are and what is required. Just remember that events change or are dropped every year.
I've never really seen anything written that will have people just leaping to volunteer. The best thing is to try and get people to a competition (kids as well as adults). One thing you might attempt is a Bottle Rocket day and try and get some parents to help with that and then shanghai them for the year. ;) Here are a couple of opening lines that I've used:
"Take an egg for a Bungee Jump! Solve the Crime of the Century! Go Surfing on the 'Net! Just a few of the projects our budding engineers and scientists are preparing themselves for through Science Olympiad."
"Build the Golden Gate bridge! Redesign the Eiffel Tower! Launch a rocket to Mars! ..."
Another thing would be to look for older siblings that have done SO and would be willing to mentor.
From: Mark Jungck

Subject: Re: [science-olympiad-coaches] My rookie year

Sent: Sun 4/7/2002 7:52 PM
Welcome Robert.
Congratulations on an enormous and rewarding undertaking. We have seen some amazing results from the experiences kids get from Science Olympiad.
> Hello coaches:


> I just wanted to vent a little and get some advice from veteran coaches. I just got back from my

> very first state Olympiad meet (Texas). I just started this in January with the students and I am

> not getting any help from the rest of my science department.

While you can sometimes get some help from other faculty, I think you will need to recruit more help from parents. One thing that helps is having them come to a competition. You might ask them for a specific and relatively simple item, such as 3 questions for a test.
Also look for groups that have expertise you need and are willing to help. For example, some Boeing engineers have a group called BEAMS that fly rubberband powered planes. We have interested in helping Sci Oly. They did an excellent job of running our state competition. They also provided some Sci Oly specific help at some of their monthly "fly-ins". They've been a tremendous help for our and several other teams.
> My biggest heartbreak was the Mission Possible event. We spent many hours, almost daily

> working on that event. The night before the meet 2 students, one father, and myself stayed

> at the school until 11 pm. It finally got finished and was working, we submitted it for impound

> and got disqualified because we used a razor blade that the judges felt was not securely

> attached.
I hope only the students were touching the box and the adults were merely providing moral and oral support. Just one of the traps that is easy to fall into as competition looms and NOTHING is working right. ;)
> We had it attached to a mouse trap with mahogany wood, hot glue, super glue, and duct

> tape. It was tested many times and never once budged. The engineer father agreed that

> the glues were much more staying power then the screw or nail the judges said we should

> have used.

As long as it is a good glue job, yes.
> We asked if we could just not set that mouse trap and take the 19 point deduction by

> moving the machine along. They said no. My biggest problem is these 3 7th grade girls

> put a lot of work into this thing, it really became a team rallying project. Why can the

> bridge or bottle rocket not meet specifications and still test? But the mission possible

> which takes a lot more time just be completely disqualified? I just felt bad for the girls

> because they worked so hard. I also did not like the tone of the judges talking to me

> like I was so stupid to even think of using that blade. The students, myself and an

> engineer father did not think it was stupid.

Given your description, the judges were unreasonable, especially about not letting you run with the deactivated razor blade.
Two things you should know. One, you can file for an arbitration hearing to try and get a more reasonable decision. Used sparingly, this can make the competition better. Abuse it and no one likes you.
Two, not all the event judges know what they are doing. It may be the first time they have ever been involved with an event and may not have seen the rules until the day of the competition. It happens. It's hard for me to believe that an experienced judge would have made the same decision in your case. Nowadays, we offer to help find people to help run events, though we don't always fare better.
Please remember that all the event judges are volunteers and treating them kindly, even when they are obviously wrong, helps them build the expertise they need to do a better job next year, instead of washing their hands of the whole thing.
> Our bad luck streak did not stop, our battery buggy stopped working because the kid had put hot

> glue in the switch. Our plane fell apart. Our bridge did not meet specifications. We forgot a few

> things at some academic events (i.e., goggles, magnet, protractor). It takes a lot of precision and

> a lot of organization. I also need a lot more help from my department, I can't do this by myself.

Been there, done that. Happens to experienced coaches as well.
Our coach now tests the students on their knowledge of what the event rules are, what they need to bring to each event, what the safety precautions are, what can get them disqualified, what the dimensions and other specifications are of the devices they are building. She sets the responsibility on them and a few just seem to have to learn the hard way. It usually only takes once. ;)
You can't shoulder every detail for every event on competition day. You have to delegate it to whoever is available. We prefer to give some of that responsibility to the students and some to our parents.
> As a new coach to the Olympiad, I feel it is political but I am in it for the fun of the students and to make

> science exciting. I just wish I had more support as a rookie. I am writing down all the mistakes I made

> this year, which should be about the size of an unabridged dictionary, in hopes that I can learn from

> this. I am planning on going to the coaches training this summer but I hope I can meet some friendly

> coaches, veterans or rookies, that are in this to inspire children to give me some guidance.
Anything with people in it has politics. Just try not to let it get in the way of the science, the fun and camaraderie that SO can build.
Did you take the opportunity to talk to other coaches while you were at state? Did you get anyone's e-mail addresses? There are other coaches out there with the same attitude. You just have to find them. There are even some on this list. :)
I would encourage you to post your list of mistakes so that other new coaches could benefit and we could even give you some feedback. Some of those mistakes might not even be mistakes.
Oh yes, don't forget to have a party and make a big deal out of it. Post a big announcement for all to see. Explicitly invite the parents, via letter or phone call if possible. Have some fun awards, especially ones that put positive spin on some of your disasters, like Discover of the Bottle Rocket Eating Tree/Lamp Post, Best Recovery from a Disaster, Bottle that went Round the World/Across the State/City (for the however many launches and the distance the bottle traveled) as well as the "usual", Inspirational, Team Spirit, Most Studious, etc. Emphasize the good and make an appeal to the parents for help. A good team Mom is worth her weight in gold.
> Thanks for allowing me to vent and thanks for making this list because it is a lot of help.
Try to keep things in perspective. Keep your expectations reasonable. It will take several years to build a "power house" team, especially if the kids are doing the learning and the building. Our first several years our goal was to specialize in a few events and just show up in all the rest to build our expertise. We would send our students with the mission (making a big deal out of trying their best, without expectations) of just putting our team name on the scoring sheet and getting the participation point and answering any questions they could. We were often surprised by their placings, sometimes as high as the upper half. Some of them decided they wanted to take on those events
> Robert Hanson

> Revere Middle School

Good luck next year.

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