With practice and a little help from Twitter, both middle and high school teams in Pullman have qualified for the National Science Bowl competition hosted annually by the U.S. Department of Energy.
This is the second time in as many years that a team both from Lincoln Middle School and Pullman High School have qualified for nationals, school officials said. The first of these national competitions will take place this weekend.
Science bowl competitions have been moved largely online for the past two seasons in response to the pandemic. In place of a competition style that rewards individual teammates who are quickest to the buzzer, teams are instead quizzed in a virtual conference room via Zoom and timed by judges. Johanna Brown, coach for the high school team, said this format allows for more team collaboration and discussion, which hasn’t been an entirely bad thing.
“This year, the kids are kind of competing against themselves. … All the teams get asked all the questions — and then, however many they get right is their final score,” said middle school coach Marla Haugen. “Normally they’d be competing against each other to see who has the right to answer that question (and) who has the right to answer the bonus.”
Brown, who also teaches chemistry and computer science at PHS, said questions for the high school teams are usually the kind of thing taught to college students, or even cutting-edge science coming out of national laboratories. She said Twitter has been surprisingly helpful in preparing students for this kind of trivia.
“We actually use the Twitter accounts of the Department of Energy National Labs to study. They post a lot about just what they’re doing or if some new cool research came out,” Brown said. “Then I have students write their own questions to help them study, so they actually ask each other their questions to try and stump each other.”
Haugen, who teaches seventh-grade science at LMS, said her students are generally presented with questions that a high schooler might know. She said while they don’t use Twitter to prepare, her teams do have binders filled with questions from past competitions that they can use as base material to study.
Whether it’s through preparation or competition, students said participating in science bowl has helped them to expand their scientific and social horizons.
“I just learned a lot just by researching some of the questions that we come up with during practice,” said high school senior Ravi Lin.
“I participate in science bowl because I think it’s a fun opportunity to get to collaborate with other people and work with other people on a team to accomplish something,” added Lin’s teammate Yiqing Du. “It’s fun to compete and learn more about a field you’re interested in.”
Brown and Haugen said prizes have yet to be announced but typically teams that do well in the competition are awarded with monetary prizes or even science-oriented, all-expenses-paid trips. Haugen said last year, the middle school team received $1,000 for placing among the top 16 teams.
Brown said monetary awards are usually used to bolster the school’s science department, but the value to the students participating goes well beyond prizes.
“Sometimes people think about academic competitions and they seem like a side thing but this is put on yearly by the Department of Energy, and 65 teams make it to Nationals out of the thousands that compete,” Brown said. “There are big prizes at the end and it is a pretty big deal … some of the best students in their subject areas are competing at this and that includes some of the students from Pullman High School.”
The middle school competition will take place Saturday. The high school competition is scheduled for May 22.