Teamwork – in the name of science: USD hosts annual Science Olympiad Saturday

This Saturday, more than 250 middle school and high school students will be in town showing off their scientific know-how.

The University of South Dakota will be host to 21 middle and high schools as part of the 28th annual South Dakota Science Olympiad.

The 15-member team from Vermillion Middle School will be among those who come to participate in a series of events requiring knowledge of science facts, concepts, processes, skills and applications.

"We always try to have as many people compete as we can," said VMS Science Olympiad advisor Natasha Gault. "Half of them are just scientific testing events, and a good portion of them are building events."

The team began practicing in mid-November, meeting once per week for two and a half hours.

"They conduct research on their particular event," Gault said. "If it's a building event, they work on developing blueprints, and then building. Most of the tests are taken in a partnership, so they also work with a partner on learning the information that's required for their event."

Clark Bennett, event organizer and mathematics instructor at USD, said teams should get at least two months of preparation behind them before attending.

"As soon as you get all the rules by sending in your payment and your registration information, I send out the manual to you and you can start preparing for the various things," he said.

Bennett said he and approximately 100 others have been working since August to ensure everything is in place for Saturday.

"We have to get all of the appropriate supplies either collected or made," he said. "There are 23 events per division, and we have two divisions, a middle school division and a high school division. So, that's 46 events that we have to prepare for."

Participation relating to specific events varies from year to year, he said.

"Robotic stuff is not always the most heavily attended because there's a lot of time involved creating that stuff," Bennett said. "You have to build something to … I believe this year it's going to be sitting in one place, but it has to move batteries and nails and pieces of PVC pipe and pencils into various locations in a little court.

"Just because of the time commitment that it takes to build it and fine-tune it, not all of the schools typically take part in it," he said.

Events such as these often attract a fair amount of spectators, Bennett said.

Some others include a catapult event called "Storm the Castle," which takes place at the Vermillion Armory from 11 a.m.-1 p.m., and "Bottle Rocket," which is to the north of Old Main from noon-2 p.m.

Gault said the students who participate gain a lot in the way of problem-solving skills and independent learning.

"Since there are such a variety of events and information, they really have to have a particular passion in an area, and if they don't have that passion the results usually don't end very well for them," she said. "So, they have to go beyond what they're used to, which is reading something out of a book.

"They actually have to go and find the information and understand it, primarily independently," she said.

Bennett said, "I think they get a greater appreciation of science and how diverse it is. It can be fun. It's not just, 'I have to take this.' It's, 'I want to take this because it's interesting."

For more information and a full schedule of events, visit http://orgs.usd.edu/sdscioly/.

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