The Land O’ Lakes High School Science Olympiad Club has reached the state finals for the third year in a row.
Moreover, it’s the first year that two of the club’s teams — consisting of 15 students each — have advanced to the Florida Science Olympiad State Tournament.
This year the event is set for March 25, at the University of Central Florida in Orlando.
The club’s achievements are notable, particularly considering that it is just four years old.
Team Exdee and Team Natural Selection, made up primarily of International Baccalaureate (IB) students, will compete against 40 teams from across Florida.
Both Land O’ Lakes squads qualified after finishing in the top six in a field of 47 regional teams at the Western Regional Science Olympiad, held Feb. 4 at Hillsborough Community College-Brandon.
A third team — Andromeda — finished 11th at the regional event.
Land O’ Lakes High School is the only public high school in Pasco County to reach the state competition this year.
Now, with multiple teams in the fold, the club is eyeing the possibility of a better showing than its 11th place finish last year.
“I think it’s about improvement,” said Amanda Faint, the club’s sponsor, who teaches chemistry at Land O’ Lakes High.
“We know how we did at regionals. We know states is tougher, so if we can…stick at the same general numerical place (during regionals), that’s still an improvement,” Fain said.
Club president Albert Xing, a senior, hopes his fellow teammates are more comfortable this time around.
“I think we’re…just trying to get a grasp of states,” Xing said. “We’re probably going to try to get more (medal) placings. Historically, we’ve gotten about two, three medals at states per year, and they’re usually third place or second place.”
The club also has a more ambitious challenge on its mind: unseat Boca Raton Community High School — the winner of the state tournament every year since 2011.
“Our goal is to knock them down,” Faint said.
“They’re like a powerhouse,” Xing added.
During Science Olympiad, students engage in hands-on, interactive, inquiry-based activities that are lab-based, research-based, or pre-built.
There are 23 different events, with subjects ranging from physics, chemistry, earth space science, biology and engineering. Various events are rotated out and substituted every few years.
The activities are all team-based, and at least two students work together on each event.
Throughout the competition, students are required to complete a designated activity within a 50-minute window.
Teams are then evaluated by judges, who determine how well students complete the task based on the rules described for each event.
“It’s kind of like golf, where the lower score is better,” Xing explained.
Typically, any particular student will compete in three to four events during the day.
Xing, for example, will mainly focus on the Wind Power, Ecology and Dynamic Planet categories.
Unlike other science competitions, Science Olympiad requires students to go beyond reporting about a science project, they must actually apply science.
Xing said the competition calls for applying the knowledge that students gain in the classroom.
“We may cover things like kinematics and trajectory, but realistically we never do anything like that inside of school,” Xing explained. “And then, doing these build events, we are basically applying what we learned at school to something that we can compete with.”
For others, like sophomore Armen Brotgandel, Science Olympiads provides an opportunity to learn about additional disciplines, such as astronomy.
“I think it’s just wanting to be able to do subjects that are usually not taught in school,” Brotgandel said. “There aren’t really any courses here on astronomy, but we get to go and study it with friends, and then you get to test your knowledge.”
Science Olympiad was created in 1983 by Dr. Gerard J. Putz and Jack Cairn, as an alternative to traditional science fairs and single-discipline tournaments.
After successful trial Science Olympiads in Michigan and Delaware, the competition began to grow.
Now, Science Olympiad has members in all 50 states, totaling more than 12,000 actively participating schools, with participants ranging from seniors to kindergarten students.
Besides testing science knowledge, the competition also provides an outlet for students to connect, outside of the classroom.
“Between events, we’ll have fun,” Brotgandel said. “We’ll play some sports, and just get to be with a bunch of friends.”
Land O’ Lakes High School Science Olympiad Club
Team Natural Selection
Published March 15, 2017