Tuesday, February 10, 2015

TN Science Bowl 2014

Wanna feel old? Volunteer to help out with a grade school competition. Wanna feel old and stupid? Volunteer to help out with a grade school competition in a subject you never mastered.

I always did well in science, but it was not my favorite subject. For four years now, I've volunteered to help out with the TN Science Bowl (#TSB to the cool kids). I got involved through Pellissippi (where I work); every semester they send out emails asking for volunteers. I decided to respond one year, and the rest is history.

For those of you who don't know what a competition like this entails, it's basically like this: Teams from different high schools around the state gather and go head to head, answering questions in the topics of biology, chemistry, physics, math, earth science, general science, and astronomy. The teams have a very short amount of time to answer the toss-ups--as an observer, it seems like you blink and the timekeeper says "time." If a team correctly answers the toss-up, they get to answer a bonus question and are given more time for that. Whichever team has the most points at the end of two rounds advances to the next round. Eventually there is only one team left. The top three teams win money, as well as the winner of the Civility Award (which I'll explain later).

There are different roles that a volunteer can fill:

  • Moderator
  • Science Judge
  • Rules Judge
  • Scorekeeper
  • Timekeeper
  • Runner
  • Crowd Control
  • Civility Award Judge
  • Registration
I've volunteered to be a Civility Award Judge all four years, though one year I was drafted to be Scorekeeper when one didn't show up. That was a stressful day, because I hadn't trained for the role of Scorekeeper! There were lots of rules to keep up with. A competing student actually had to correct me at one point because I had incorrectly awarded points to someone! #yikes

This is the first year since I started that I wasn't able to volunteer, so I thought I'd share some of the highlights of last year's Science Bowl, from a volunteer's point of view. All the Civility Award Judges met at 6:45 am (ugh) to register and go over the rules for evaluating the teams. Basically we observe the students interacting with each other and with all the adults, rate them on several aspects, and then tally our results to figure out the winner. Each judge is assigned several teams, and no team is observed twice. Most of these kids are very well-behaved, so it's really about looking for those who go above and beyond with their behavior/attitude.

In addition to adults who volunteered to be runners, there were also Boy Scouts who helped out. In the first room where I observed, this adorable Scout was serving as a runner. We both sat at a table in the back of the classroom, out of the way. Seriously, this kid was one of the sweetest kids I've ever met. Before the competition began, I chatted with him about what it's like to be a Boy Scout. Once the competition began, we sat there quietly playing with a puzzle that was given to all of the volunteers. It's called a Rubik's Snake or Twist and it's WAY too much fun. The Scout and I kept comparing shapes while the teams were hard at work answering questions. Here are a couple of my creations:

It's the letter "R." Can you see it? :)

I don't know what this one is. A train? A house?

I had a major #geek moment when one of the questions dealt with the second law of thermodynamics. For those of you who don't know, my favorite band's most recent album is entitled The 2nd Law. The overall theme of the album is energy use, entropy, and all that. I'm glad I was sitting at the back of the room so that no one could see me having a fangirl moment. #squee

The teams rang in using buzzers that were connected to a large box in front of the Science Judge. These buzzers were apparently very old because every year there's at least one malfunction. But last year, it was absolutely ridiculous. They wouldn't buzz when students pressed them, and then they buzzed when no one had touched them. It was funny at first but it got old pretty quickly. I wish someone would donate a new buzzer system! We blamed the malfunctions on the Ghost of Science Bowls Past...

Despite all the equipment errors and whatnot, it was a good day overall. There was even a kid dressed in a banana suit. I unfortunately didn't see him, but I'll bet it was hilarious! I'll bet he did it to psych out the other teams. Or just confuse them so they couldn't answer any questions?

Every year I ask myself, "Why do you get up before the sun to volunteer for something?" Then I watch all these talented kids compete and I remember. It's so rewarding to see them get excited about science. Oh, and the goodie bags and free doughnuts don't hurt either.

Got any favorite volunteer experiences to share?

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