By DEB HILL | News-Argus Managing Editor
The Junior High Science Olympiad team that took second place includes (front row from left) Kai Painter,
Tyson Dubbs, Tate Mangold, Jasper Fairchild, and Emma Myers; (middle row from left) Julia Kunau, Tal
Brooks, Owen Day, Landon Burleigh; and (back row from left) Isha VanderBeek, Ava Assenmacher, Kylie
Moline, Matthew Golik, James Martell and Carson Barta.
Lewistown students can hold their own in the sciences, at least according to the results of this year’s Science Olympiad held last Tuesday in Bozeman on the Montana State University campus.
The Lewistown Junior High team took second place in Division B (grades 6-9) and Fergus High was fourth in Division A (grades 9-12).
Around 1,400 students from 63 middle schools and 57 high schools competed in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) challenges. Junior High Science Olympiad Coach Dana Leininger said her team of 15 included five ninth graders, seven eighth graders and three seventh graders, a combination of talent she called the “most awesomest” ever.
“I really want people to see the great things coming out of our local schools,” Leininger said. “I went to school here, and have since lived in or taught in a lot of different places. I’ve always felt my education measured up well.”
As a volunteer coach for Science Olympiad who contributes many hours of time (and sometimes a bit of funding as well), Leininger said she feels the event teaches important skills.
“I’m kind of hooked on it, but I just love it,” Leininger said. “The kids are getting skills that will help them in their
future careers, or help them find a career.”
This year the budding scientists had 14 events to compete in (out of 23 events at the national level).
“There’s a manual of rules and you have to be very careful to follow the rules,” Leininger said.
At the beginning of the school year, students identify those events they are most interested in. Although they may end up competing in several events, Leininger said she tries hard to give each student at least one of their favorite events to work on.
And work it is – students meet for practice for an hour and a half one evening a week and also work on their projects during STEM classes.
“We spent 22 hours this year outside regular meetings and practices,” Leininger said.
Depending on the contest, students may be asked to build something, design something or investigate and prove something.
For example, in the Boomilever event, students demonstrate structural efficiency by building something akin to a tiny crane that weighs as little as possible and supports up to 15 kilograms (about 33 pounds). Points were scored based on the weight of the device and how much weight it supported.
“This year our boomilever weighed less than 12 grams and supported the entire 15 kilograms,” Leininger said. “It was really fun to watch it hold all the weight.”
In another event category named Mission Possible, students must design a “Rube Goldberg” contraption. This year it was a box into which a golf ball was dropped. The goal was for the golf ball to end up sitting on top of a golf tee using 12 machine actions and moving the ball at least 12 centimeters horizontally within a certain number of seconds.
“There’s a scoring system for each event, and the judges rank every participant. This year there were 51 participants. The one who finished first got one point, and the one who finished last got 52 points. I tell the kids to try and come in 10th or better,” Leininger said.
That advice worked well this year, as the Junior High team received 139 points, second only to Corvallis Middle School with 77 points.
“Those kids that win at state can go on to the national Science Olympiad,” Leininger said. “I’ve seen colleges offer scholarships to the gold medalists. Being involved can lead to something very positive.”
For those students interested in joining next year’s team, Leininger suggests watching for a meeting announcement right after the start of the school year, and signing up to participate.
Tal Brooks and Landon Burleigh load the Boomilever device. In this Structural Efficiency event, students must build a
boomilever, bridge or tower to certain specifications that weighs as little as possible and supports up to 15 kilograms
(about 33 pounds). Points are scored based on weight of the device and how much weight it can support. This year the
team’s Boomilever weighed less than 12 grams and supported the entire 15 kg.
Photo courtesy of Dana Leininger