Tonganoxie students compete against area schools at Olympiad
The snow-packed roads kept some schools away, but more than 600 students braved the weather Saturday to attend the 25th annual regional Science Olympiad at Johnson County Community College.
The competition, which is held in 47 states every year, is open to grades six through 12, and though students who participate come from all different schools, backgrounds and levels of experience, they usually have at least one collective thought in common: Science really is the spice of life.
“Cause it’s just so much fun,” said Lawrence Free State High School senior Ruth Byers of why she has participated in both regional and state Olympiads since the eighth grade. “You go in, take a test and a lot of times, you get medals for your efforts.”
This year’s Science Olympiad kicked off at 8:30 a.m. and students from schools across northeast Kansas were in attendance, including those from Bonner Springs High School, Basehor-Linwood Middle School and Tonganoxie High School.
Saturday’s Olympiad was structured so that students could participate in many different science-related competitions throughout the day. Each school was allowed to send a team of 15 students and grade levels were divided into divisions B and C. Division B was for middle school and junior high students. Competitions available in this division ranged from meteorology to environmental chemistry to one competition related to amphibians and reptiles.
Tonganoxie Middle School placed 11th out of 20 participating schools and received two fifth-place medals and one sixth-place medals.
In division C, high school students took tests related to cell biology, forensics and technical problem solving.
Tonganoxie High School placed 10th out of 17 schools and received a silver medal, two fourth-place medals and one sixth-place medal.
Some interactive events, such as one covering the study of trajectory, were available to both divisions. Students wanting to participate in trajectory were required to build a homemade catapult prior to the competition. During the competition, each team of two used their catapult to launch a tennis ball and collect data based on how high and how far the ball went. Bonner Springs High School sophomore Riley Mortensen said this was one of her favorite events of the day. Her catapult was one she built in an hour on the Wednesday beforehand with partner Alan Smith, who is a BSHS junior.
“We watched all these kids with complicated catapults launch their tennis ball and they all missed,” Mortensen said. “And we got up there with our simple, to-the-point catapult and got it on the first try. It’s amazing, the power of simplicity.”
To prepare for the Olympiad, many students begin studying at the beginning of the school year. Each team has a coach as well. But regional director of the northeast Kansas Science Olympiad Dennis Bishop, who is also a coach for the Shawnee Mission Northwest High School team, said that his role as coach often becomes obsolete with these self-motivated students.
“You wind up getting (students) who are really enthusiastic about science and learning,” Bishop said. “The coaches don’t really do that much in the way of instruction.
At the end of each Olympiad is an award ceremony, where medals are given to the students who receive the most points in each of the competitions. Medals up to sixth place are given out. Trophies are also awarded to the top three schools. While this is one of many highlights the students will experience throughout the day, Bishop said the real reward for him comes from how much knowledge all the participants are able to achieve just through preparing for the Olympiad.
“I have a Ph.D in medicine and by the end of this competition, they know a lot more about science than I do,” Bishop said. “That’s exciting as a coach, to see them do that. The State Science Olympiad will be Saturday, April 4, at Wichita State University.