MacDonald MS Science Olympiad Team Participates in First Invitational

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Monday, February 25, 2019, 9:01 am
Victoria Solomon

More than twenty middle schoolers from East Lansing have been busy for the past few months preparing for MacDonald Middle School’s first ever Science Olympiad invitational, which took place on February 23 at Holt High School. The team, which formed only in November, meets every Monday to learn about different science topics.

“Our big focus is having fun, exploring science, and making friends who love science,” said one of the team’s founders and parent volunteers, Marji Cyrul.

Cyrul, who has a 7th grader on the team, moved to the area three years ago from Tennessee, where she started an Olympiad team with homeschoolers. Michigan is a strong Science Olympiad state, Cyrul said, and with all the university connections in East Lansing, she was surprised that there was not an Olympiad team already in place at the middle school.

Seeing the need, Cyrul stepped in to help form the club along with another parent volunteer, Marilyn Matice. Cyrul and Matice have also had guidance from the head coach of East Lansing High School’s Science Olympiad, Will Kopachik.

Above: Middle Schooler Akrim Djomehri holds up an elastic-lauched glider, which he built and competed with in the Middle School Science Olympiad invitational.  

Through the Science Olympiad, students get to explore a number of science topics outside the standard classroom curriculum, including fossil identification, thermodynamics and astrophysics. Matice, who is a project engineer with Dart and whose son is on the team, said students seem to be enjoying the opportunity to investigate new topics.

“Because they enjoy science and learning, it’s been positive for them,” said Matice.

Science Olympiad questions are divided into five categories: life, personal and social sciences; earth and space science; physical science and chemistry; technology and engineering, and inquiry and nature of science. There are a number of subtopics within these broader categories.

Since the team formed recently, they do not have enough time to specialize in all the topics, Cyrul said. Instead, individuals and small groups hone in on subtopics. “The kids are really able to delve into topics that are of interest to them, but also be part of a team,” she said.

One of the competitions in the engineering category, for example, is the elastic-launched glider event, which studies aerodynamics and design. In this event, students build their gliders following a set of given parameters prior to the actual competition. They then bring the gliders to the event, and the glider that launches the farthest wins the event. In other events, students build their own roller coasters, take a test on meteorological principles or identify fossils.

Cyrul said the team is actively seeking parents or other volunteers in the community to come in and discuss science topics with the team.

One such volunteer, Bruce Greenway, whose son is on the team and who has a doctorate in astronomy, came to a recent meeting to discuss astrophysics with students. Greenway started by asking the easy questions: What objects are found in the solar system? What kind of planets are there? He then delved into the topic, asking students what gases are prevalent in the solar system and if they knew the chemical equation for hydrogen.

“He was asking questions that people with degrees in astrophysics know,” said Cyrul, “and they knew them.”

After the invitational at Holt Middle School, the team will begin preparing for the regional competition, which takes place on March 16 at Lansing Community College.

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