A Long and Rewarding Saturday

Teaching and Learning, as we are well aware, does not always take place within the classroom or during school hours. Sometimes it occurs in areas which are outside of your primary responsibilities.  And this is what I experienced today, many times over.

Being at an independent school, we are asked to take part in many activities and wear many hats. One of the hats which I love to wear is being a Science Olympiad coach. This is the ninth year that I have been the co-director, along with the person who has become my best friend, and we are fortunate enough to run a successful program in both our Middle Schools and High Schools. This year, I am coaching fewer events as I am focusing more of my time on technology integration and professional development, but the two – three hours that I spend with the students on the events is challenging and rewarding.

Today, we hosted an invitational tournament. This event is one which we focus the students so that we can teach and they can learn from other students and teachers, and parent volunteers. This is an essential part of the competition, before it gets more serious for schools who challenge at the regional, state, and national levels. This year, I was responsible for helping to organize the event in which we had 22 teams of students from 14 schools. We ran a full event, which means scheduling 23 events over a six hour period. We have over 275 students, plus another 100+ coaches, volunteers, and parents experiencing the event on our campus. The competition was tough, as 6 of the top 10 Middle Schools in the state of Illinois were competing today. (Yes, we were one of the top 10).

Utilizing my strength in being able to organize and schedule time, I was responsible for developing the day. And I must say that it ran without a hiccup, that we were able to get all events run and judged and everyone home in a reasonable amount of time. This in addition to guiding the students in the three events that I co-coach.

What I love about this is that student have to learn to think and adapt, accept the device that may have run perfectly 99 times in practice only to fail during the 1 time in competition. Two years ago, we were at our regional event when our plane was not heavy enough. A student took a piece of gum that he was chewing and stuck it to the plane to make the weight. The gum was placed forward in a way that made the plane immediately dive, so that it only had an 8 second flight. Adjusting the gum before the second flight, the student made the weight more balanced and was able to achieve a 30 second flight good enough for a 3rd place finish. Today, one of the events I coach is Wheeled Vehicle. In this event, you build a car which is powered by a non-metalic elastic device (rubber bands and fiber glass poles rather than springs) Our students were using a fishing rod. As they were preparing for the first of their two run and winding the string which would propel the device, the fishing rod snapped. They completed their first run in which the vehicle only went half of the target distance. Rather than be dejected, the team plugged in the glue gun and attempted a repair in the 8 minutes that they had before they had to start their second run. When the glue gun was not heating up quick enough, the tried to make adjustments to do the best that they could under the circumstances. We did not earn a medal in the event, but the experience and what the students learned was invaluable. I am proud of the way that they did not get dejected, they continued to try to make adjustments, and do the best that they could.

We will have five weeks before the regional and what we learned was invaluable, including having a backup fishing rod. Without the experience, they would have never understood the need for redundancy. But they were resilient and  walked away from the experience wiser.

This is why I continue to be involved in this program, because it supports math, science, and engineering. Now, it is time to shift priorities and get ready for to put on another of my hats, that of yearbook advisor, so that we can finish our project of documenting the year in print.

Hence, the multi-faceted refractions, ideas and experiences angling through the medium of my brain.

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