Coupeville students’ brains exercised for Science Olympiad

Coupeville High School Senior Zac Forland works on a robotic arm he’s helping design for a Science Olympiad competition next month.  - Nathan Whalen/Whidbey News-Times
Coupeville High School Senior Zac Forland works on a robotic arm he’s helping design for a Science Olympiad competition next month.
— image credit: Nathan Whalen/Whidbey News-Times

Sophomores Jared Dickson and Brandon Kelley are learning the improvisational and critical thinking skills needed to compete in an experimental design contest.

As members of the 15-student Science Olympiad team at Coupeville High School, the duo is busy developing an experiment based on siphoning.

“They have to think quickly. They have to think creatively and they have to understand the scientific method,” said John Burks, a chemist who has volunteered with the Science Olympiad for the past three years and came up with the latest experiment Dickson and Kelley had to complete.

During the experimental design competition, the students are given a box of materials and they have to design a scientific experiment using solely those items. They have only 50 minutes to design and complete their experiments.

Dickson and Kelley are in the middle of their first year competing in the academic competition. Kelley said he enjoys the Olympiad because it builds on the prior knowledge he’s gained from his science classes.

The Science Olympiad is in its third year at the Central Whidbey school.

In their first year, the students had a solid showing at regionals, finishing one place short of advancing to the state competition. They experienced a sophomore slump last year, finishing four places short of qualifying for state.

Teacher Dan d’Almeida said the Science Olympiad competition is always tough, especially for a “single A” school such as Coupeville going up against schools that have 10 times the students to draw from.

“That is always an uphill battle when you have a pool of 300 students,” d’Almeida said.

Coupeville’s crew of young scientists tries to compete in three different categories. During a recent visit after school, the Olympians were fine-tuning a robotic arm and making new parts for a model helicopter along with Kelley and Dickson’s experiments.

A group of volunteers has been helping the students develop their experiments. Those volunteers have industry experience and have provided valuable insight that has helped students.

The students are creating projects in such areas as optics, towers and forensics.

Zac Forland, Kyle Andrews and Cung Nguyen were busy recently fine tuning their robotic arm. The students are tasked with developing a machine that can pick up pencils, nails and a pipe.

They placed sixth in their most recent competition and they hope to do better during the regional competition that takes place March 10 in Seattle and, hopefully, the state competition in April.

The stakes are high if a team manages to qualify for the national competition, which takes place in May. The winners receive a full-ride scholarship to the host university, in this case the University of Central Florida.

The students need some help raising money to pay for transportation to the March event. They are holding a community night, Wednesday, March 7, 6 p.m. at the Coupeville High School Commons. The public will have a chance to view the latest projects and enjoy a dinner.


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