Parkland hosts Science Olympiad regionals

Photo by Destiny Norris | Students from Centennial High School’s team operate their “electric arm” during the competition.

Photo by Destiny Norris | Students from Centennial High School’s team operate their “electric arm” during the competition.

Destiny Norris

Staff Writer

On Saturday, March 4, Parkland College hosted the regional tournament for the Science Olympiad.

It was attended by eight middle school teams and 16 high school teams and took place from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m.

High school teams like Urbana, Centennial, University Laboratory, Mahomet-Seymour, as well as other outlying schools drove to Parkland for the event.

Every team that comes is semi- local according to Amy Nicely, a chemistry professor at Parkland and the organizer of the event.

“Everyone is more or less an hour’s drive away,” Nicely says.

Parkland is one of nine different schools in the region to host tournaments; the top teams from the Parkland event will go on to Science Olympiad state at the University of Illinois in April.

The Science Olympiad is a competition and social gathering for science lovers of all ages. Coaches, students, and parents wander everywhere, visiting different events and attempting to figure out the geography of the Parkland campus.

Renée Anderson, the coach for Argenta-Oreana School team near Decatur, which she said is a fairly new team, says she loves the atmosphere.

“It’s a super cool time to get nerdy,” says Anderson. “For a lot of the kids, it’s their first time to travel into Champaign, and it’s a really good experience.”

Anderson said what she loves is the supervisors at the events. Each event has an overseer, who gives tips, advice, and instructions for how the event will run.

“They really want the kids to do their best,” Anderson states.

Anderson explained the rules for the tower event, which her team participated in. The scoring is all based on math; the tower that is the lightest and holds the most weight, applied via sand emptying into a bucket attached to the tower, is the winner. The scoring for the tower event is based on percent.

“Everyone is supposed to get their rules in November,” said Anderson.

The rules explain what materials can be used, how much the tower can weigh, and how tall it can be. They also include the order of the events, safety rules, rules for testing, and rules for what materials apply to the more physical, hands on events.

Another event includes written tests, covering subjects like astronomy, food science, hydrogeology, optics, material science, rocks and minerals, experimental design, biology, ecology, and so on. Sarah Jones, coach for Urbana’s team, runs the hovercraft event, which was held in X103.The event kicks off with an “impound” portion, where all the teams participating bring their contraption in a container or box to a designated area so the auditors of the event can take stock of which teams are in attendance and who will be competing. The active part of the event takes place about fifty minutes after the impound period and contains both a written test and a test of the machine. The scoring depends on the time it takes the student-built hovercraft to get from point A to point B. Supervisors can get accurate timings using laser photo gates.

All events are scored differently, and while some events will tally the scores and let students know immediately, the testing events usually take longer, says Scott Siechen, chair for the natural sciences department at Parkland. These events usually get earlier time slots in the day.

“Some kids will wait all day,” Siechen says.

Jones says participating in events is a group effort, having joined forces with other teachers and volunteers so she can be at events her students are participating in.

“He’s me when I can’t be here,” said Jones, waving to a colleague.

Parkland volunteers are an appreciated part of the event with students from Nicely’s chemistry classes, as well as other science classes at Parkland receiving extra credit for volunteering. Volunteers hand out maps and schedules to coaches at the registration table throughout the day. Others like Siechen help the day run smoothly by directing volunteers and answering parent and student questions.

Parkland has been hosting the event since around 2011. Nicely was involved with Illinois Science Olympiad when she was in graduate school at the University of Illinois. When she joined the staff at Parkland, they needed someone to organize it— so she started doing so.

“I was already involved with it, so it just made sense,” she says.

Photos of the Science Olympiad can be found on social media sites, using the hashtag #ParklandSO.