Science masters — The Rolling Hills Middle School Science Olympiad team, clockwise from left front, includes Andrew Tang, Eric Zhao, Stephanie Warrior, Prachi Sood, Chris Zinser, Anthony Pham, Nicholas Pham, Mattie Vanhonsebrouck, Chris Tharratt, Misbah Shafi, James Yoon, Nidhi Vedantam, Tanushree Jain and Lynn Yang. Village Life photo by Pat Dollins

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The Science Olympiad expands the mind

By From page A1 | May 21, 2014

Sheldon and Leonard pay attention — 15 sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth-grade scientists are sharpening their brains and expanding their creativity to blow the Big Bang Theory and other science concepts right out of the water.

Rolling Hills Middle School’s 2014 Science Olympiad team meets every Thursday after school with advisor Ryan Rutkin. At home, they practice experiments and feats of engineering; they study meteorology, heredity, geology, entomology, anatomy, the solar system, water quality, machines, glaciers, forensics, chemistry and physics.

All of this preparation will pay off, they hope, in this year’s Science Olympiad, a 23 event national competition that will test their abilities, their ingenuity and their teamwork.

“We started out with 28 students and two teams,” said Rutkin. “After our regional competition in Sacramento on March 8, our top 15 became one team.”

The “A” team is sixth graders Tanushree Jain and Lynn Yang; seventh graders Andrew Tang, Eric Zhao, Stephanie Warrior, Prachi Sood, Chris Zinser and Anthony Pham; and eighth graders Nicholas Pham, Mattie Vanhonsebrouck, Justin Xie, Chris Tharratt, Misbah Shafi and James Yoon; and ninth grader Eileen Xie.

This is the third year Rolling Hills has had a Science Olympiad team.

“A parent with children in the Gifted and Talented program encouraged us to do it,” said Rutkin, science teacher at Rolling Hills. “I had a lot of other obligations, but five minutes into the competition, I was sold because it was really fun.”

“We each pick three events and topics to practice,” said Warrior. This year Warrior picked anatomy, heredity and forensics.

“But, at the competition,  you don’t always get to compete in the area you picked,” said Tanushree Jain. Each event is one hour with a 10 minute break to rush to the next event.

“All the events have specific times, so you can’t be in two places at once,” explained Warrior. “But you can watch how other schools compete.”

Many factors

Experience and talent are equally important in the competition and with 23 events, students can have multiple partners. Last year, Eric Zhao and his older brother practiced experimental design where one of them wrote a description for an object to be built and the other one followed the directions to build it.

The catch? At the competition, you have no idea what object you might be given to write a description for.

You may have to identify various rocks and minerals by determining their hardness; you might be given a crime scene and evidence and have to figure out how the crime was committed; you may have one minute to estimate volume, weight and size of objects without touching them, or you might be given a bunch of materials and told to design something or have to draw a topographical map.

The lower the score is, the better.

“It’s like golf, that way,” said Justin Xie.

Justin’s older sister, Eileen, is on the team even though she is a freshman at Oak Ridge High School. Justin plans to return to the Rolling Hills Science Olympiad team next year when he is a freshman.

“Oak Ridge’s team is just starting,” he said. “We know what we’re doing here at Rolling Hills.”

The Rolling Hills team took ninth place, overall, at the State Competition at California State University, Stanislaus, in Turlock on April 12. Twenty-four schools from northern California competed. In individual events, they earned second place in heredity, fifth place in experimental design, fifth place in rocks and minerals and 10th place or better in 12 out of the 23 events.

Second-place individual winner Warrior said, “Heredity is an event where you learn the principles of genetics at a high school level. I learned about Punnet squares, genetic disorders and how to identify them, karyotypes, pedigrees, DNA replication and how our cells make proteins using our genetic code. It was an educational experience and I can use the concepts that I learned in this event in the future. It gave me a deeper understanding of what I am already learning in my current science class.”

While the team didn’t qualify to go to the national competition, Warrior said the Science Olympiad was a very fun and challenging experience for her because science is her favorite subject in school.

The first national Science Olympiad took place in 1985, with 17 states participating. Now more than 6,400 secondary schools from 49 states participate, and 10,000 elementary schools also hold Science Olympiad tournaments. The mission is to improve the quality of k-12 science education and increase student interest in science by bringing science to life.

“It’s a great way to get kids interested and excited about science,” said Rutkin. Mission accomplished.

Wendy Schultz


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