Lincoln Trail Science Olympiad team builds confidence through hands-on experiences

It doesn’t get much more exciting than this for elementary students who are interested in science:

Who can build the farthest rolling four-wheeled vehicle out of an assortment of ‘junk’ materials? Who can build the best paper airplane? Who can communicate how to build a structure that only the describer can see? Who can solve a crime based on the simple powders left behind on the scene?

These are just some of the activities that the Lincoln Trail Elementary Science Olympiad team competed in as they showed off their knowledge and talents in the 2018 Hawthorn Middle School Science Olympiad competition in Vernon Hills on Feb. 3.

The 2017-2018 school year is only the third year Illinois elementary students have been able to participate in Science Olympiad competitions.

Lincoln Trail started its team during the 2016-2017 school year. Mahomet-Seymour is currently the only school outside of the Chicago suburbs to participate at the elementary level.

This year’s Lincoln Trail team was comprised of fourth- and fifth-grade students. Teachers were asked to nominate students in the fall and the nominated students were surveyed about their interest in science. Based on responses, students were invited to participate in the Science Olympiad program.

The Mahomet-Seymour School District also has a high school team, which will compete in the Parkland College Regional Tournament on Feb. 17.

Science Olympiad is a national program that was developed in the 1980s to give kids a chance to get excited about science and engineering.

“The program is designed to be fun and to support interest in the fields of science, technology, engineering, math and literacy,” Team Co-Sponsor Meg Loven said. “Science Olympiad includes real-world applications and hands-on experiences and presents an opportunity to enrich curriculum and extend classroom learning.”

Functioning much like football or soccer teams, the Lincoln Trail Science Olympiad team practiced after school from October through February, learning about the 12 events, and narrowing their focus down to the two events they would compete in at the Science Olympiad competition.

As students learned about the different facets of the Science Olympiad competition, which included anatomy, aerodynamics, biology, structures, chemistry, metrics, architecture, puzzles, astronomy and communication, they were mentored by local professionals from the University of Illinois, Parkland College and the Champaign County Forest Preserve.

“Science Olympiad gives elementary-age students the opportunity to be scientists right now,” said Team Co-Sponsor Liza Raquel. “The students come to practices with energy and excitement about what they’re doing each week — they can’t wait to learn something new and show off their knowledge, or put their skills to the test!   We hope this experience will help to fuel a lifelong passion for learning and discovery.”

Each event competition is tackled by students in groups of two or three who work together for about 45 minutes to complete their tasks.

“Science Olympiad is a great opportunity, for students with an interest in science and engineering, to explore a variety of topics outside the regular classroom curriculum,” Co-Sponsor and Sangamon Elementary Teacher Heather Jackson said. “They learn facts and study new information on topics such as Astronomy and Anatomy.  They learn to think “on the spot” when folding paper airplanes, which need to perform with accuracy.”

Lincoln Trail had so many students nominated by their teachers that they were able to field two teams to compete in the Science Olympiad.

While both teams competed, only one team could place in the official results.

One Lincoln Trail team placed 3rd in “A for Anatomy,” 1st in “Aerodynamics,” 1st in “Backyard Biologist,” 2nd in “Bridge or Tower?” 3rd in “Crimebusters,” 1st in “Junk Cars,” 1st in “Metric Mystery,” 1st in “Mystery Architecture,” 1st in “Rockhounds,” 2nd in “Science Password,” 1st in “Starry Night,” and 2nd in “Write It, Do It.”

The second team place 2nd in “Backyard Biologist,” 3rd in “Junk Cars,” 3rd in “Mystery Architecture,” 2nd in “Rockhound” and 2nd in “Starry Night.”

“The Science Olympiad program is about so much more than learning facts,” Loven said. “The events require students to invest time and effort in learning material, but students also have to figure out how to work together to find answers and solve problems. I’m amazed at what our elementary students can learn when given the opportunity.

“For example, in the A is for Anatomy event, a student might be asked to trace the path of a red blood cell through the circulatory system. Science Olympiad content complements and surpasses what students are asked to learn in school. Students thrive when given that challenge.

“The students learn to work collaboratively to solve problems when constructing a tower with limited resources,” Jackson said. “Our students have made friends along the way and learned to accept challenges, both at practice and during the competition.”

The sponsors hope that students continue to find opportunities to challenge themselves in the areas of science and engineering that interest them.

“We want to inspire kids to ask questions and seek out the answers on their own. Science Olympiad asks kids to make a commitment to learning not only science and engineering content, but also about how to communicate and collaborate with their peers,” Loven said. “As coaches, we try to help students develop concepts and build strength in applying those concepts. Most importantly, we want kids to take away that science is fun.”

The 2017-2018 Lincoln Trail Science Olympiad team included: Grace Bednar, Ben Bolton, Theodore Brennan, Seth Christensen, Valentina Covarrubias-Zuniga, Abby Crane, Aaron Dahl, Amelie Dall’erba, Rachel Davidson, Jackson Davis, Isabelle Difanis, Adam Dobrucki, Emma Forman, Ethan Gardner, Ava Gilbert, Makenzi Haskett, Lucas Isaac, Colin Jackson, Kaleb Kasper, Tucker Loven, Charlotte Lybarger, Julia McPherson, Eva Meerdink, Lukas Nykaza, Lucas Raquel, Will Slezak, Cole Thrasher, Daniel Traficante, Jack Stelle, Morgan Waisath, Ella Walk and Ella Ylagan.

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