May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

My First Science Olympiad Experience: A Primary Teacher’s Perspective Part 1

Posted: Tuesday, May 1st, 2012

by Michelle French

As a primary teacher, I had never thought about attending a Science Olympiad.  That changed when I had the opportunity to talk with Tulare County Office of Education’s Science Instructional Consultant, Jennifer Janzen.  When I asked Ms. Janzen about interesting science education opportunities in Tulare County, she informed me that on April 14, 2012, the Northern California State Science Olympiad would be held at College of the Sequoias (COS).  COS is the junior college in my hometown of Visalia, CA.  Additionally, Ms. Janzen said that the Tulare County Elementary Science Olympiad would be held at El Diamonte High School in Visalia on April 21.  I was excited to hear this news and made plans to attend both of the events. 

On the day of the Northern California State Science Olympiad, I arrived at COS around 1:30 in the afternoon.  I was immediately struck by the festive atmosphere around the campus.  Teams from around the state had set-up camp throughout the common areas.  Lawn chairs, ice chests, and brightly decorated signs denoted each team’s “turf.”  The music playing in the background added to the excitement of the day.

I was able to make contact with Laura Malmquist from the Tulare County Office of Education.  When I mentioned the festive atmosphere, Ms. Malmquist said that during the competitions participants were very focused.  She explained that the overall winning teams of the state events go on to compete at the national level.  At the national level, the competition is even more spirited, because full-ride scholarships to the university hosting the national Science Olympiad are made available to the students who win each event.

Ms. Malmquist then showed me a map and the jam-packed schedule of events.  As she reviewed the schedule, I was impressed with the number of events and the number of students participating in the competition.  There were approximately 735 students competing on 24 high school teams and 25 middle school teams.  I  headed out with map in hand and began my new experience.

I immediately went to one of the COS gyms to watch two events.  My plan was to stay there for a bit and head out to other events, but I became so enthralled that I never left.  The two events I had the pleasure of watching were Mission Possible and Gravity Vehicle.  I was blown away by the design and construction of all the participants’ entries.  After watching both competitions, I was able to meet with two students and a parent to get their opinions of the Science Olympiad experience.

The first participant I had the pleasure of meeting was Aaron Grisez from Clovis.  He and his partner Kareesa Kron are both sophomores from Buchanan High School in Clovis, CA.   Aaron’s mom, Denise Grisez, was there supporting them during the competition.  Aaron and Kareesa competed in the Gravity Vehicle event.  According to the National Science Olympiad website, the main objective of the Gravity Vehicle is that “All energy used to propel the vehicle comes from the gravitational potential energy derived from the mass of the vehicle and the vehicle starts from an elevated, non-horizontal position on a ramp.”  When I asked Aaron why he and his partner enjoyed this particular event, he stated, “We like physics.  This is the most physics-based event.  I prefer building events to testing events.”

As I continued to interview Aaron, it quickly became apparent that he was an exceptionally intelligent, thoughtful, and polite young man.  His interests are split between a nice balance of music and science.  He went on to say that “the Science Olympiad experience doesn’t exhaust me; it invigorates me.”  Aaron enjoys seeing what “like-minded” students around the state are doing.  He added that about 40-60 hours of work went into the preparation for their two events.   When I asked him about how preparation in his traditional science classroom helped him, he stated, “science isn’t something you can learn from a book; you have to do it.”  I also asked him what advice he would have for teachers who are interested in becoming coaches and forming Science Olympiad teams.  His response was, “Don’t let funding deter you.  Even if you can’t afford to attend a regional or state competition, you could have Olympiad types of events at your school.”  Aaron’s closing thought was “this is a challenge, not a fixed goal, and I want to reach as high as I can.”

Aaron’s mom, Denise Grisez, stated that there is a “great camaraderie” among all of the participants.  She has observed, over the last three years of her son’s participation, that participants have a “much greater enjoyment in the learning and application of science” by being involved in this process.

My next interview was with Kaitlin Prado a freshman at Bullard High School in Fresno.  She was competing on Baird Middle School’s team.  I started off by asking what inspired her to compete.  Kaitlin responded that the school she attended in 4th grade was “really big in science.”  She won an award at an elementary science fair that year.  Kaitlin competed in the Mission Possible event.  According to Kaitlin, the goal of this event is to design and build a Rube-Goldberg Device that would result in the raising of a flag after completing as many tasks as possible within the device.  Kaitlin said that her initial blueprints of her device looked very different from her finished product.  She went through a lot of trial and error before finalizing her device.

She stated that she built the device by herself as her grandfather supervised the construction in his garage.  I laughed when she told me, “I am not one of those kids who wants a parent to do it for me.”  How refreshing!  I also consider her outlook on her future refreshing.  Her potential career paths include following her interests in music and theater.  She is also interested in environmental science by becoming a hydrogeological specialist.  When I asked her how she blends her two loves of science and art, she said, “I really love science; it is an art.  There are so many creative things to do with science.  I have just as much fun with science as with a piano lesson.  I feel equally as creative.”

Kaitlin also wanted to send an encouraging word to teachers considering starting an Olympiad team.  She said, “The Science Olympiad gives a whole new outlook in science.  We are able to explore all branches of science.  I had an opportunity to work in physics as a middle-schooler, and most don’t get it until high school.”  She added, “We get to meet people with similar interests.”  My parting question to Kaitlin was regarding her thoughts about the likely decrease in California high school graduation requirements from two science classes to one.  “I don’t think that’s right.  Some students really don’t think about what they want to do in their lives.  Without the additional science class, we are closing a door to potential scientists.  We are closing a door that is vital to society.”

All I can add is “WOW!”  I am so thankful that someday these two intelligent young people will be making informed decisions for our county and planet.  In Part 2 of my article, coming out next month, I will explore the elementary level of the Science Olympiad experience.

Michelle French is a staff developer and classroom teacher at Wilson Elementary School and CSTA’s primary director.

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

One Response

  1. I stumbled on his post and I’m glad I did! I currently teach science at Los Tules and I have taken both Division A (Maple) and Division B (Los Tules) teams to Science Olympiad. I am hoping to get more participation from other schools in our district! There will be a districtwide informational meeting sometime at the end of September. More information to come soon!

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CSTA Annual Conference Early Bird Rates End July 14

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Jessica Sawko

Teachers engaged in workshop activity

Teachers engaging in hands-on learning during a workshop at the 2016 CSTA conference.

Don’t miss your chance to register at the early bird rate for the 2017 CSTA Conference – the early-bird rate closes July 14. Need ideas on how to secure funding for your participation? Visit our website for suggestions, a budget planning tool, and downloadable justification letter to share with your admin. Want to take advantage of the early rate – but know your district will pay eventually? Register online today and CSTA will reimburse you when we receive payment from your district/employer. (For more information on how that works contact Zi Stair in the office for details – 916-979-7004 or

New Information Now Available On-line:

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Goodbye Outgoing and Welcome Incoming CSTA Board Members

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

Jill Grace

Jill Grace, CSTA President, 2017-2019

On July 1, 2017 five CSTA members concluded their service and four new board members joined the ranks of the CSTA Board of Directors. CSTA is so grateful for all the volunteer board of directors who contribute hours upon hours of time and energy to advance the work of the association. At the June 3 board meeting, CSTA was able to say goodbye to the outgoing board members and welcome the incoming members.

This new year also brings with it a new president for CSTA. As of July 1, 2017 Jill Grace is the president of the California Science Teachers Association. Jill is a graduate of California State University, Long Beach, a former middle school science teacher, and is currently a Regional Director with the K-12 Alliance @ WestEd where she works with California NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative districts and charter networks in the San Diego area.

Outgoing Board Members

  • Laura Henriques (President-Elect: 2011 – 2013, President: 2013 – 2015, Past President: 2015 – 2017)
  • Valerie Joyner (Region 1 Director: 2009 – 2013, Primary Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Mary Whaley (Informal Science Education Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Sue Campbell (Middle School/Jr. High Director: 2015 – 2017)
  • Marcus Tessier (2-Year College Director: 2015 – 2017)

Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Finding My Student’s Motivation of Learning Through Engineering Tasks

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Huda Ali Gubary and Susheela Nath

It’s 8:02 and the bell rings. My students’ walk in and pick up an entry ticket based on yesterday’s lesson and homework. My countdown starts for students to begin…3, 2, 1. Ten students are on task and diligently completing the work, twenty are off task with behaviors ranging from talking up a storm with their neighbors to silently staring off into space. This was the start of my classes, more often than not. My students rarely showed the enthusiasm for a class that I had eagerly prepared for. I spent so much time searching for ways to get my students excited about the concepts they were learning. I wanted them to feel a connection to the lessons and come into my class motivated about what they were going to learn next. I would ask myself how I could make my class memorable where the kids were in the driver’s seat of learning. Incorporating engineering made this possible. Learn More…

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Written by NGSS Early Implementer

NGSS Early Implementer

In 2015 CSTA began to publish a series of articles written by teachers participating in the California NGSS k-8 Early Implementation Initiative. This article was written by an educator(s) participating in the initiative. CSTA thanks them for their contributions and for sharing their experience with the science teaching community.

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Unveils Updated Recommended Literature List

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson unveiled an addition of 285 award-winning titles to the Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list.

“The books our students read help broaden their perspectives, enhance their knowledge, and fire their imaginations,” Torlakson said. “The addition of these award-winning titles represents the state’s continued commitment to the interests and engagement of California’s young readers.”

The Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list is a collection of more than 8,000 titles of recommended reading for children and adolescents. Reflecting contemporary and classic titles, including California authors, this online list provides an exciting range of literature that students should be reading at school and for pleasure. Works include fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama to provide for a variety of tastes, interests, and abilities. Learn More…

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy:

Teaching Science in the Time of Alternative Facts – Why NGSS Can Help (somewhat)

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn

The father of one of my students gave me a book: In the Beginning: Compelling Evidence for Creation and the Flood by Walt Brown, Ph. D. He had heard that I was teaching Plate Tectonics and wanted me to consider another perspective. The book offered the idea that the evidence for plate tectonics could be better understood if we considered the idea that beneath the continent of Pangaea was a huge underground layer of water that suddenly burst forth from a rift between the now continents of Africa and South America. The waters shot up and the continents hydroplaned apart on the water layer to their current positions. The force of the movement pushed up great mountain ranges which are still settling to this day, resulting in earthquakes along the margins of continents. This had happened about 6,000 years ago and created a great worldwide flood. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the Region 4 Director for CSTA.