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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Participate in Chemistry Education Research Study, Earn $500-800 Dollars!

Posted: Tuesday, May 9th, 2017

WestEd, a non-profit educational research agency, has been funded by the US Department of Education to test a new molecular modeling kit, Happy Atoms. Happy Atoms is an interactive chemistry learning experience that consists of a set of physical atoms that connect magnetically to form molecules, and an app that uses image recognition to identify the molecules that you create with the set. WestEd is conducting a study around the effectiveness of using Happy Atoms in the classroom, and we are looking for high school chemistry teachers in California to participate.

As part of the study, teachers will be randomly assigned to either the treatment group (who uses Happy Atoms) or the control group (who uses Happy Atoms at a later date). Teachers in the treatment group will be asked to use the Happy Atoms set in their classrooms for 5 lessons over the course of the fall 2017 semester. Students will complete pre- and post-assessments and surveys around their chemistry content knowledge and beliefs about learning chemistry. WestEd will provide access to all teacher materials, teacher training, and student materials needed to participate.

Participating teachers will receive a stipend of $500-800. You can read more information about the study here:

Please contact Rosanne Luu at or 650.381.6432 if you are interested in participating in this opportunity, or if you have any questions!

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.

2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption Reviewer Application

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

The California Department of Education and State Board of Education are now accepting applications for reviewers for the 2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption. The application deadline is 3:00 pm, July 21, 2017. The application is comprehensive, so don’t wait until the last minute to apply.

On Tuesday, May 9, 2017, State Superintendent Tom Torlakson forwarded this recruitment letter to county and district superintendents and charter school administrators.

Review panel members will evaluate instructional materials for use in kindergarten through grade eight, inclusive, that are aligned with the California Next Generation Science Content Standards for California Public Schools (CA NGSS). 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.

Lessons Learned from the NGSS Early Implementer Districts

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

On March 31, 2017, Achieve released two documents examining some lessons learned from the California K-8 Early Implementation Initiative. The initiative began in August 2014 and was developed by the K-12 Alliance at WestEd, with close collaborative input on its design and objectives from the State Board of Education, the California Department of Education, and Achieve.

Eight (8) traditional school districts and two (2) charter management organizations were selected to participate in the initiative, becoming the first districts in California to implement the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Those districts included Galt Joint Union Elementary, Kings Canyon Joint Unified, Lakeside Union, Oakland Unified, Palm Springs Unified, San Diego Unified, Tracy Joint Unified, Vista Unified, Aspire, and High Tech High.

To more closely examine some of the early successes and challenges experienced by the Early Implementer LEAs, Achieve interviewed nine of the ten participating districts and compiled that information into two resources, focusing primarily on professional learning and instructional materials. 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.

Using Online Simulations to Support the NGSS in Middle School Classrooms

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

by Lesley Gates, Loren Nikkel, and Kambria Eastham

Middle school teachers in Kings Canyon Unified School District (KCUSD), a CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative district, have been diligently working on transitioning to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) integrated model for middle school. This year, the teachers focused on building their own knowledge of the Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs). They have been gathering and sharing ideas at monthly collaborative meetings as to how to make sure their students are not just learning about science but that they are actually doing science in their classrooms. Students should be planning and carrying out investigations to gather data for analysis in order to construct explanations. This is best done through hands-on lab experiments. Experimental work is such an important part of the learning of science and education research shows that students learn better and retain more when they are active through inquiry, investigation, and application. A Framework for K-12 Science Education (2011) notes, “…learning about science and engineering involves integration of the knowledge of scientific explanations (i.e., content knowledge) and the practices needed to engage in scientific inquiry and engineering design. Thus the framework seeks to illustrate how knowledge and practice must be intertwined in designing learning experiences in K-12 Science Education” (pg. 11).

Many middle school teachers in KCUSD are facing challenges as they begin implementing these student-driven, inquiry-based NGSS science experiences in their classrooms. First, many of the middle school classrooms at our K-8 school sites are not designed as science labs. 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 NGSS 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.

Celestial Highlights: May – July 2017

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

May Through July 2017 with Web Resources for the Solar Eclipse of August 21, 2017

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graphs of planet rising and setting times by Jeffrey L. Hunt.

In spring and summer 2017, Jupiter is the most prominent “star” in the evening sky, and Venus, even brighter, rules the morning. By mid-June, Saturn rises at a convenient evening hour, allowing both giant planets to be viewed well in early evening until Jupiter sinks low in late September. The Moon is always a crescent in its monthly encounters with Venus, but is full whenever it appears near Jupiter or Saturn in the eastern evening sky opposite the Sun. (In 2017, Full Moon is near Jupiter in April, Saturn in June.) At intervals of 27-28 days thereafter, the Moon appears at a progressively earlier phase at each pairing with the outer planet until its final conjunction, with Moon a thin crescent, low in the west at dusk. You’ll see many beautiful events by just following the Moon’s wanderings at dusk and dawn in the three months leading up to the solar eclipse. Learn More…

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Written by Robert Victor

Robert Victor

Robert C. Victor was Staff Astronomer at Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs, CA. Robert is a member of CSTA.