Organizing a Team
A Science Olympiad team is composed of up to fifteen students for Divisions B and C. The rules for each event should be read thoroughly by the coach before choosing the team and again by each member of the team to be certain that everyone has the same understanding of the rules.
Science Olympiad events are designed to use a variety of intellectual and practical skills. Some events require a quick recall of specific facts, while others require concept development, a process skill, or an application of a specific concept. Some events require general knowledge while others require a specific skill. Others may require a student to build an apparatus. A few years ago a youngster in an introductory science class won the titration event. This young man had incredible manual dexterity. He could almost make a burette talk. He and a partner (a two-person team event) entered the titration race. He did the titration while his partner did the actual calculations. The winning combination in this case was someone who could master the physical manipulation teamed with someone to do the calculations. We encourage you to represent your entire school population on the team.
It may be advantageous to "load" the team with seniors who presumably have taken biology, earth science, chemistry and physics or other advanced science. However, it may also be advantageous to "load" the team with sophomores or juniors whose knowledge of one or more of the sciences is more recent than that of a senior. This also gives the coach the opportunity to "build for the future" or to have a team at a later date that is more experienced. This makeup also allows the coach to use the Science Olympiad as a motivational device. It helps the teacher and the school celebrate the student’s success. Students who placed in an event one year will return to school the next year and tell their friends that you are a superior coach and encourage these friends to try to make the team. It is also a good idea to get a student with a specific skill such as computer expertise.
Check the schedule of events carefully. Do not over-commit any one student. In some schools a single coach arbitrarily chooses the makeup of the team and this is permissible. In other schools, the science department chooses the team members. In other schools, an intramural or invitational competition is used to select certain members of the team. Use the rules of the Science Olympiad to run a practice activity. Consider having several preliminary "heats" culminating in an assembly format for the entire school to finally arrive at the "best" students for the event. These preliminary rounds build interest and suspense for the actual Science Olympiad. Many schools conduct their own "mini" Science Olympiad, inviting the entire school to compete for a place on the team going to the regional competition.
Running a Science Olympiad or coaching a Science Olympiad team requires people and resources. Recruit help from everywhere. In the past, teams and events have had sponsorship from local service clubs, parents' groups, school boards, intermediate (regional) school districts, senior citizens groups, flower sales, bagel sales, bake sales, book publishers, the military, science supply houses, local community colleges and newspapers. You could also try fast food chains, local congressmen, garden clubs, conservation groups, professional associations, anyone! Many businesses require about six weeks for contributions to go through their machinery, so allow enough lead-time.
Seek help with judging, organizing, and publicity from your community. This is good public relations for the school and a good way for you and your students to meet interesting people. You may even find, as several schools have, someone who will prepare students for an event. Encourage those who volunteer to wear something identifying them with the group they represent. All event supervisors, however, should wear a common Science Olympiad Officials' T-shirt, hat or name badge. Be sure to thank all those who help both publicly (perhaps with a resolution from the Board of Education) and personally in writing. Also, ask if letters may be sent to superiors.
With 23 events and only 15 team members, scheduling your team to cover every event can be a difficult task. There are several things to keep in mind when scheduling, which may make your job a little easier.
- Students with a wider background in a variety of science areas are easier to schedule.
- The first task is to schedule students into their "strong" event if this is possible.
- Note the times and places of events so students will not be covering too much physical ground. If the events are in the same building and back-to-back, the same team members can probably participate.
- Schedule "back-up" team members to be present in case an event was late in starting or ending and an originally scheduled team member(s) can't make it. This is not always possible but the coach can ask team members who are "free" to check events during that "free" time to make sure they are covered. This contingency plan is often used.
- Certain events, such as building events, do not require the person building the entry to be there. The entry is considered a team effort so any official team member (not an alternate) can cover the event. This can "free up" members for another event which requires their specific talent or time (if an event runs late).
A student should be encouraged to seek additional sources of information from libraries, college professors, the Internet, or community resource personnel. However, adults doing the actual physical work involved (i.e., building a device) is strictly forbidden. Adults may provide guidance and suggestions, but students should translate that information into an actual design. Commercially finished or bought products and those completed by adults will be disqualified except where specifically permitted
Last minute problems such as bad weather for outdoor activities may make it necessary for you to move your students into a different event. Be sure you cross-train students so they can be flexible enough and adventuresome enough to accept this challenge. These students may be placed on the official roster up to the day of the tournament. Every coach has the same difficulty. Students get sick, parents won't let them participate, the date of the Science Olympiad conflicts with other events. Every coach faces the same problems. Relax! Have a good day! The youngsters on your team have already received recognition by your having placed them on the team! Placing in one or more events is icing on the cake!
No teacher or school can buy the positive "PR" gained by placing in one or more of the Science Olympiad events. There is a renaissance of interest in excellence by public schools. All communities are looking at their schools critically. They want to know how to make them better. Placing in a Science Olympiad event would help schools confirm that quality instruction is taking place in the science classrooms. Several teachers have been commended by their Boards of Education because of their excellent showing in a Science Olympiad and many teachers have received letters of commendation from the legislature or the Governor for winning first place.
Many schools have had pep rallies to send off their Science Olympiad teams. They have team hats, warm-ups, flags, banners and cheers. Some teams have had a parade and police escort out of town on their way to the National Science Olympiad Tournament.
Local papers have run articles on preparation for events. You may be able to get a "good luck" letter from a mayor, city council, local congressman or other local celebrity. Be sure to get publicity from your local school district's newsletter and town newspaper.
You may wish to develop a Power Point or a DVD/Video presentation on your participation in the Science Olympiad. Start with the work done in getting ready and the relationship of Science Olympiad events to your District’s or State’s Science Education Standards.
In addition to the need to publicize and recognize our young people, there is also a need to take a longer look at our curriculum guides in science and our daily lesson plans. Have we really included process skills in a meaningful way in our courses? Do we have students complete work in a laboratory situation weekly? Do we perform demonstrations to illustrate the concepts and facts that we want our students to understand? A student cannot become proficient in the manipulation and use of laboratory equipment overnight. A planned sequence of experiences throughout their school experience would allow the students to feel confident as they attempt to meet the challenges of the Science Olympiad's laboratory competitions. The same would be true for construction projects. Students need to be assigned low risk, high interest, well-defined, designed for-success projects. Once they reach success in these simpler projects, something more complex will not unnerve them.
Finally, look at each of our science classes. Could we make them a little more interesting by using interesting Science Olympiad learning techniques? Occasionally, we could introduce or review a concept or chapter by doing Write It-Do It, Science Word, Experimental Design, etc. Teaching is hard work, but Science Olympiad can make it fun and exciting as well as challenging!
After a local, state or the national finals of the Science Olympiad, do not forget to celebrate your success. At the very least, recognize the members of the team. Have their participation announced in an article of the school newspaper and have their names and events read over the school's intercom. Submit a short article in the local newspaper. Call local radio stations, including popular teen music stations. Arrange to have the youngsters accept their "Certificate of Outstanding Performance" at a school assembly or a "Breakfast with Champions". Then collect the certificates from the youngsters and make arrangements to have the local Board of Education award these certificates again at a regular meeting. The press is usually present at official school board meetings. Consider asking students to display or demonstrate their event or devices.
If any of the students or team won a medal or trophy, collect them after a few days and develop a display for the principal's office or science display case. Include pictures of the students accepting the award. If none are available, have the school photographer take pictures for inclusion in the display. Make certain that the team's picture is given to the yearbook editor for inclusion as an important student activity.
Again, see to it that those students who placed in an event receive appropriate recognition. Have the principal, at a school assembly, place the medal around their neck as was done at the Science Olympiad awards assembly/banquet. Be sure to also recognize parents and organizations that helped sponsor your team.
Nothing succeeds like success! Recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of your talented students. The positive public relations that can be generated from this academic competition should be maximized. Use your imagination!
There are several ways to schedule the Olympiad events. Each tournament director is free to choose the scheduling method best suited for their needs. Coaches who are on the planning committee should have input as to the "best" alternatives.
Some events require specific times for each team to compete. Other events are scheduled within certain more flexible time periods. It is in the scheduling of these other events that we offer the following suggestions:
- If judges are available, events may be scheduled in some open manner, which means the competition can run all morning, all afternoon or all day. A team may enter any time that is convenient to them (e.g., Aeronautics, Bottle Rocket or Tower Building)
- Events may be scheduled for several specific time blocks and the contestants may enter on a first-come, first-serve basis. Some teams, if they are not careful, will not be able to compete if they saved that event for last and were shut out because of space limitations.
- Some events are scheduled within one limited time block and schools are scheduled to participate alphabetically or numerically during that designated time.
- Some events may be scheduled so all teams must compete at once. For example, Periodic Table is scheduled for a specific time block during which all teams compete against each other.