A trio of eighth graders from Burns, Wyoming ran a fishing line from a wall above their heads to the bottom of a chair leg Saturday in a Casper College classroom during the Wyoming State Science Olympiad. They attached a straw at the top with a balloon and washers. Maianna Siebert hit the timer as Taytem Woodward cut the straw to send the balloon down their zip line.
Hogan Allen wrote down 1.3 seconds, the fastest time for their zip line experiment during the experimental design competition.
Eight Wyoming middle school teams and 11 high school teams competed this year in about 20 timed events that test science knowledge and skills in problem solving and critical thinking, co-director for the annual Wyoming State Science Olympiad Kendall Jacobs said. The events featured disciplines including anatomy and physiology, circuity, fossils, thermodynamics, coding and even building mousetrap cars or elastic launch gliders.
The winning Wyoming middle school and high school team will head to the national tournament May 31-June 1 at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, Jacobs said.
“We want them to be interested in education, in science and math,” explained Jacobs, who teaches math at the college. “We want to encourage them to pursue studies in these fields and to have fun learning.”
In the experimental design session, students had 50 minutes to create an experiment that tests a scientific idea behind the science of zip lines. The Burns middle school group tested time with different amounts of weight. They sent a straw down with no washers as their control, followed by three or four tests with washers and collected data on each, Hogan said.
“This one’s kind of interesting because you go in not knowing what materials or experiment you’ll be doing. So you kind of learn to deal with making that experiment entirely on your own — just creativity almost.”
They’ve also learned from the competition how hard work and preparation pay off, like last year when a group Hogan was in won first place in a tower competition.
“I think it’s also fun to go in there, and it’s kind of suspenseful, you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh,’” Taytem said. “And then you’re, ‘Oh, we did pretty good.’”
The kids learn science and life skills through the competition, said their coach Eric Allen, who teaches science at the Burns Junior/Senior High School.
“I like that they give you a list of these are the requirements and this is the challenge we want you to meet. And then the kid has a goal, and even if you don’t get it, a lot of it’s about the process of problem solving. You design something, it fails and you try again and keep going. It’s teaching them perseverance.”
In another classroom, high school students in lab coats and safety goggles worked over funnels, beakers and calculators as they tried to separate baking soda and gravel. A session on water quality called for students to determine the salt concentration of water in four beakers using hydrometers, show the different properties of water with magnetic water molecule models and identify water invertebrates all in less than an hour, University of Wyoming at Casper College physical science instructor Jason Katzmann said.
Riverton Middle School eighth grader Kade Gabrielson went to the national competition last year with his team in Fort Collins. This year he competed in four events, including elastic launch glider building and mystery architecture. The competitions have taught him to work under pressure, he said.
“It’s not going to help if you’re stressed, so you have to focus. And that can apply to a lot of different aspects in your life.”
Star Valley High School freshman Chet Long built a boomilever, a balsawood structure given points both for being light and how much weight it can hold. They tested the capacity by adding sand to a bucket until the structure breaks, he explained. One thing he learned was that triangles are more structurally stable than other shapes, so they’re a benefit in building bridges, he said.
“It’s enjoyable seeing so many people that enjoy taking science to the next step and putting it to use in the world. Rather than sitting in a classroom and learning about it, we can actually take it and put it out into the real world.”