Wednesday, April 6, 2016

A Sneak Peek: Science Olympiad Interview with Mr. Wagner By Sheryl Lin

A Sneak Peek: Science Olympiad
Interview with Mr. Wagner
By Sheryl Lin

Today we bring to you a sneak peek into our school’s Science Olympiad team! Here is an interview with one of the coaches, Mr. Wagner.

Q: What’s Science Olympiad like?
Well, Science Olympiad is a national competition where students get to compete in various science tests, knowledge tasks, construction tasks, different kinds of tests what students have to think on their feet and figure out problems. Competitions are held regionally, and the winners of those competitions get to compete in the state championship. Then the winners of the state championships get to compete in the national championship. It's a very big and very organized competition.

Q: What are the events like? What kinds are there?
Events come in three types: the first type is knowledge events where the students simply have to know more about a particular field of science that our competitors. Some examples of this would be Fossils or Astronomy or Microbiology or Anatomy.

The other more exciting events for some kids are the construction events where we have to build a device that outperforms our competitors’ devices. Examples of these would be catapults, airplanes that stay up in the air the longest, vehicles that travel across the floor and stop at a pre-designated distance, Bridges that have to hold the most weight. Those are examples of the construction events.

And the most odd and difficult to prepare for events are the “think on your feet” type of events. These events include Write It Do It, Picture This, Science Word, Experimental Design… and there's another one (whose name escapes me) where the students have to build a structure on the spot with whatever materials they are provided with.

Q: What are the tests like? Are there any notable or particularly interesting tests?
In Science Olympiad, tests refer mostly to the knowledge events. Those events are very difficult; they're much more difficult than the middle school tests are or even high school tests in some cases. Often students in Science Olympiad are learning their material at a college level and they have to compete at a college level. They also make the events particularly difficult because they don't want people getting a 100% on any event that they give - then there could be a tie. The one thing that they never want to have is a tie because they won't know which students to give a gold medal to, and who to give a silver medal to! So, if they make the tests advanced and very difficult they reduce the likelihood of any two students having the same score. Therefore they can sort out the medal winners more easily. But I do have to make sure that students understand that their mission is not to get a 90% on their event; it's simply to defeat their opponents.

Q: What do you think was your most successful team, and what was that year like?
In 1998 I believe we had a team that medaled in 10 of 17 events. 7 of those 10 medals were gold medals so we won Nassau County by a significant margin. We could have literally not competed in the 17th event and we still would have won the entire County, that's how dominant our team was in 1998. That team went on to be 6th place I believe in New York State. That was an excellent, excellent team.

Then, about three years later I had a team that was entirely 7th grade and that team just barely missed going to the state championship by one point. The following year that team came back as 8th graders with all the experience and the that team performed tremendously at the state competition, averaging a little more than 5th place in each event they competed in. It is becoming more difficult recently to get those kind of scores because back in the nineties we competed in 17 events and now the regional competition we are competing in has 22 events, 23 events in some occasions. Only having two coaches, 23 events is way too much for a small team like us to be competitive. It was it was much more easy for us to dominate and be competitive when there were only 17 events to master.

Q: What kind of people make the best Science Olympians?
Well, one might assume that the best student makes the best Science Olympiad competitor -  that is not necessarily true. Although great students often do make great Science Olympiad competitors I've had many medals won by students who are diligent hard workers with good imaginations. I think to be a good Science Olympiad competitor you have to be interested in your event and you have to be willing to put in the time and learn. You have to be curious and you have to have a good work ethic. I don't think you really have to be a straight A student to be a medal winner in Science Olympiad although it doesn't hurt. This is particularly true for the construction events. Builders are a unique breed of student.

Are you a 7th or 8th grader interested in learning about science? Join us in Science Olympiad!