Jill Scheurer, Portland Middle School Science teacher is an avid advocate for Science Olympiad which is completing its fourth year at the Middle School. Science Olympiad is typically an extracurricular club designed to develop interests in scientific fields. “In the first year it was a club, but this is the 3rd year that Science Olympiad has been an elective class”, Scheurer explained. “This has been very beneficial for our students, so they do not have to do as much work outside of their school day. As the competitions get closer, students often choose to stay after school to get additional work in but typically they can prepare during their regular school day. This year has been tough as we have a shorter class period and we have had so many snow days.”
Science Olympiad is designed to be an academically challenging and competitive program in which school teams compete in 23 events at Invitational, Regional and State competitions. There are events in all areas of science: biology, chemistry, earth science, forensics, health sciences, physical science, engineering, aeronautics, etc. and it helps students learn and explore how the world we live in works.
One of the events, for example, is “Write it, do it” where one team member will attempt to build a device using only the instructions written by their teammate, who has separately seen and studied the device privately. Then they create a written narrative description of the device for their partner, who then builds the device using only the written instructions. The team with the device that is closest to the original device, according to the independent on-site judges, will win the event. Evey Arleth and Madyson Newburry took 4th place in this event at the Lansing Regionals.
Another example, “Fossils”, is one that Ellie Pung and Bruce Manshum placed 2nd in at the Regionals. In this event, teams demonstrate their knowledge of ancient life by completing selected tasks at a series of stations including but not limited to fossil identification, answering questions about classification, habitat, ecologic relationships, behaviors, environmental adaptations and the use of fossils to date and correlate rock units.
Students choose events in fields they are interested in and prepare for them in a similar way that an athlete "trains" for a game or athletic contest. They learn the rules and parameters of the event, build and test materials, run experiments, and/or take exams to test their skills. On the day of a competition, they compete against other schools in their event. There are 23 different events and a team consists of 15 members. So typically, a team member will prepare for 3-4 events to help our team compete. “By the end of these day long competitions”, Scheurer exclaimed, “the kids are mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted!” While waiting for the results most of the student competitors confide that they believe they performed poorly. The reason for that according to Scheurer, is that the events are designed to be “college level challenging”, and “when a Middle school student is used to getting “A” grades, it can be deflating to not be able to finish a test, get all the right answers, or complete the event as they would like”. “Awards”, Scheurer explained, “are based on how far they progressed to a solution compared to other competitors, not necessarily achieving the solution”.
In its first competition on Feb. 23 at Holt High School, the Middle School team finished 23rd out of 46 teams. But in the Regional competition, held on Mar. 16 at Lansing Community College, the team placed 5th out of 18 teams and qualified for the State Competition the third consecutive year and advance to the State Competition which will be held on April 27th at MSU.
Portland Middle School’s 2019 Lansing Regional Individual medal winners:
Chelsey Jenks and Vince Michell-5th place for Density Lab
Clayton Rice and Drew Edick -4th place for Disease Detectives
Vince Michell and Tyler Thelen-3rd place for Dynamic Planet
Ellie Pung and Bruce Manshum-2nd Place for Fossils
Sam Hoving and Chelsey Jenks-2nd Place for Herpetology
Preston Dibean and Bruce Manshum-4th place for Meteorology
Evey Arleth and Ryan Graft-4th place for Mystery Architect
Madyson Newburry and Ryan Graft-3rd place for Potions and Poisons
Tyler THelen and Clayton Rice-2nd Place for Solar System
Sam Hoving and Preston Dibean-5th place for Thermodynamics
Ellie Pung and Clayton Rice-6th place for Water Quality
Evey Arleth and Madyson Newburry-4th place for Write It Do It
Scheurer concludes, “This is such a great opportunity for students! They choose their interests and they choose how to prepare for their events. How great is that? It takes some students time to understand the discipline and focus required, but when it is a personal interest for them, they really have a chance to shine. My role is merely their coach, not their teacher in this setting. It is freeing and exciting for them to see what works for them and what doesn't.”