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April 11, 2006 > Science Olympiad tests kids' savvy

Science Olympiad tests kids' savvy

by Mona Shah

Two teams comprised of 5th and 6th graders from Forest Park Elementary School in Fremont competed in a "Science Olympiad" on March 18, capturing first and second place. This was quite an achievement for a team who four months ago had never heard of this competition. George Dai, head coach for the team, found the Science Olympiad website while surfing the internet to find enriching and fun science activities for his two elementary school aged boys. After researching and exchanging countless emails with Barbara Little, regional director for the Olympiad, Dai was invited by Stanislaus County to participate in their competition. "The Bay Area does not offer this type of competition, so we decided to drive the whole team to Modesto's Hickman Charter School to compete," says Dai.

Enlisting the help of Betty Miller, principal of this Blue Ribbon school, Dai got together a team of 38 interested students and their families. The Science Olympiad consists of a series of 17 team events that encourage learning in biology, earth science, chemistry, physics, problem solving and technology. Many of these subjects were unfamiliar to the students but it was felt they could learn a lot preparing for the contest while having fun. Enthusiastic parents with expertise in these areas signed up to coach the team.

Students were divided into two teams of 15 each; the remaining students served as alternates. All were encouraged to participate in the initial training sessions, after which they were divided into smaller "interest groups" by interest and ability. Each 15-person team was further divided into two groups which participated in events including the straw egg drop, crime busters, orienteering, anatomy and water rocket launch which, according to Dai, was "an interesting and spectacular event where the kid's learn about basic mechanics, aerodynamics and Newton's Laws."

"It really gives me an appreciation of the process kids go through in learning things and how it applies to the real world," said one of the coaches.

The Science Olympiad was created in 1983 by Dr. Gerard Putz and Jack Cairns to increase interest in science and as an alternative to traditional science fairs and single-discipline tournaments. The original idea was to give students who are passionate for science public recognition somewhat akin to what athletes receive. The first national competition was held in 1985. Now, more than 13,500 K-12 students actively participate from all 50 states.

"Once again the Forest Park community has demonstrated what can be done when a couple dozen volunteers get together. We all hope the groundbreaking achievement of these students will lead the way for other Bay Area elementary schools. Not for a moment have we forgotten our goal - to enhance science education and increase student interest in science, for the future of our children and our society," said assistant coach Yoed Nehoran.

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