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Compute This! April 30, 2006 – 9:11 p.m. – Permalink

Participants in the Storm the Castle event at the 2004 National Science Olympiad at Juniata College, Pennsylvania.

In Science Olympiad, there is an event called “Compute This” in which you use the Internet (by way of Internet Explorer, unfortunately), Word, and Excel to find, answer questions on, and graph data, respectively. Science Olympiad has been conducted nationally and regionally for about twenty years now — over the last few years there have been several events that make a sizable emphasis on computers and the Web.

Personally, I believe Science Olympiad is a very important competition that increases academic awareness of science and students’ interests in scientific pursuits for their careers. One of the greater aspects of science is research. Recently, research by students — middle school and high school alike — has increased exponentially because of the Web.

Science Olympiad is basically the Olympics of scientific education. Around sixty teams of fifteen students from every state compete in events consisting of different science concepts, such as astronomy, biology, chemistry, engineering, geology, physics, and technology.

Interestingly, the first event that emphasized the use of the Web was called “Using the Web” and was an event at national and regional competitions in 2001 only. It’s surprising that awareness of the Web for science was utilized in educational competitions so quickly. Another intriguing fact is that the 2001 national competition was hosted here in Colorado Springs at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

In 2005, “Compute This” was introduced. It combined skills of researching and quick thinking. Last year participants would head over to the NASA website to find a set of data specified on the event worksheet. Upon finding the data, participants would have to input that data into an Excel spreadsheet and create a chart using that data. Subsequently, questions about the data and also on information found on the site would be inputted into Word. This year the site was NOAA’s.

The reason Compute This is such a wonderful event is the fact that the Web is being used to such a great extent at these kinds of competitions. And it’s really great fun too — my friend Brandon and I placed first in Compute This for the district and regional competitions and first at the state competition up at the Colorado School of Mines.

Some of you faithful readers might be wondering what I meant by “we’re going to nationals!” Our team, the Eagleview Middle School Science Olympiad team, achieved first at the state competition and will be participating in the national competition at the Indiana University at Bloomington on May 20. Wish us luck!

Here is a list of 2006 Science Olympiad events and their descriptions:

Awesome Aquifer
Designing and building a model aquifer that allows a team to demonstrate and explain groundwater concepts.
Balloon Race
Attaching a weight to helium–filled Mylar balloons and “racing” them to a pre–determined level.
Bottle Rocket
Designing, constructing and testing rockets made of plastic pop bottles, which will remain aloft for a maximum period of time.
Can’t Judge a Powder by Its Color
Identifying unknown powders given to participants by using magnets, water, etc.
Compute This
Solving a problem that requires quantitative data capture from the public Internet and the electronic organization and presentation of data in a graphical format.
Disease Detectives
Applying principles of epidemiology to a published report of a real–life health situation or problem. (An event my friend Richie is participating in.)
Don’t Bug Me
Demonstrating knowledge of taxonomic keys, habitats, life history and geographic distribution of insects.
Dynamic Planet
Taking an exam regarding glaciology — formation of glaciers, retreat, and glacial landforms. (One of the events I’m working on.)
Experimental Design
Designing, conducting, and analyzing an experiment given a set of unknown objects.
Food Science
Answering questions pertaining to food chemistry, which may include chemical reactions, characterization, and quantification.
Solving problems and analyzing data or diagrams using knowledge of the basic principles of genetics.
Using process skills as applied to climate and weather. (Another I’m working on.)
Mission Possible
Designing and building a Rube Goldberg–like device, which demonstrates a series of energy transfers to accomplish a specific task.
Mystery Architecture
Building a device that can be tested using unknown building materials.
Road Scholar
Accurately interpreting and understanding various map features using a variety of road and topographic maps.
Rocks and Minerals
Identifying, classifying, and describing various rocks and minerals.
Science of Fitness
Taking an exam on health concepts.
Sounds of Music
Building musical instruments, describing the scientific principles behind their operation and performing a musical selection on them. (Yet another of mine.)
Storm the Castle
Designing, constructing, calibrating, and operating a device capable of launching a projectile far and accurately using only the energy of a falling counterweight. (The above image was a Storm the Castle catapult in the 2004 competition at Juniata College in Pennsylvania.)
The Solar System
The Sun, planets and their satellites, comets, asteroids, the Oort Cloud, the Kuiper Belt, meteoroids, meteorites, and meteors.
Water Quality
Demonstrating an appreciation and understanding of aquatic ecology, water resource management, water treatment practices and aquatic chemical processes.
Wheeled Vehicle
Designing and constructing a “vehicle” that uses a non–metallic, elastic solid as its sole means of propulsion.

In other news Yahoo has acquired Babelfish from AltaVista. Definitely an interesting and unprecedented turn of events.