Magical Moments: SLOCA Shines in the Science Bowl - SLO Classical Academy
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Welcome to Down Home, San Luis Obispo Classical Academy’s blog! We are a classical school offering several options to make our education work for families with infants through high schoolers. Our signature hybrid program, which is part-time classroom and part-time home instruction, provides an engaging education for preschool through middle school (with full time options available). We also have a university model high school. This blog is meant to support and encourage on the home front because, in so many ways, the heart of what happens at SLO Classical Academy happens down home.

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Magical Moments: SLOCA Shines in the Science Bowl

{photo by Chuck Smith}

Today’s Magical Moment reflects on another monumental “first” in SLOCA’s history, and was written by our beloved middle school science teacher, Heidi Frago. This is definitely worth reading, folks – you will be so proud of our students!

On March 1st, 12 Middle Schoolers (6th-8th grade) competed in the Central Coast Regional Middle School Science Bowl coordinated by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.  Our three teams of four students competed against 24 teams from Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Kern, and Monterey counties.  It is a fast-paced competition where students are quizzed on their knowledge of middle school science and math.  In addition to being knowledgeable about the content, teams need to play with a strategy.  Competitors need to know when to use the clock to their advantage and when to risk a penalty by interrupting a question.

I heard about the event seven weeks before the competition.  I spent time looking through the sample questions and reading about the format.  My initial thinking was that we could do this, but not with such a short time to prepare.  We cover all the science and then some at SLOCA, but we foster critical thinking and application of concepts, not rote memorization of facts.  In the end I decided the choice of competing was not mine to make.

I was so surprised with how many students were willing to jump in.  I wasn’t expecting more than one team and within twenty-four hours of sending the initial email we had enough students for one team and half of another.  When I mentioned it in class, several students expressed the same concerns I had about the memorizing.  Other students that had already committed told their classmates that there was nothing to lose and experience to gain.  By the end of the week we had three teams.

The Blue Team

The Green Team

The Red Team

During one of our first meetings we were running through sample questions and one question asked about the ppm of DDT in a food chain.  Everyone just laughed, “What in the world is DDT?” But then out of nowhere a student jumped in with the correct answer.  We were all shocked!  Did the student guess?  Was this student a pesticide aficionado?  Nope, the student explained that she used what she understood about trophic pyramids and how each trophic level consumes more of the level below.  She had never heard of DDT, but knowing how the science worked was all that mattered.  All of sudden everyone started feeling more confident in their abilities.  After that our practices were filled with more correct answers and great peer explanations of the science.

The morning of the competition we met at Arroyo Grande High School.  The MPR was filled with 150+ students, coaches, and parents.  

The SLOCA teams were nervous, but excited.  Our teams were divided into three different rooms for the round-robins.  The first question of the first round was about DNA.  I knew the students knew the answer, but no one buzzed in.  When the moderator read the answer the students on the SLOCA team looked over at me with disappointment.  I started to feel a little panic.  This competition was supposed to build confidence and get students excited about science.  Did I encourage the students to do something that was going to forever stain their perceptions about science?  Was the pressure of getting a correct answer going to ruin the enjoyment of learning about science?

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Then the next question came and the rest was history…or science.  Our team won the round, but what impressed me most was that the students’ excitement wasn’t so much about the win, but about how they actually knew the answers.  As I went around watching the different teams compete, I listened to the students praise each other, discuss strategy, and talk about exceptionally tricky questions.  Two of our teams made it to the quarter finals (top eight) where they faced some really tough questions and competitors.  After we didn’t move on to the semi-finals, I heard one student say to the other, “If we had to lose, that was a good team to lose to.” And another say, “Yeah, and now we know who we have to beat next year.”

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The following Monday the students were still enthusiastically talking about it and wanted to know when we were going to start practicing for next year!  SLOCA’s competitors were asking me about the science questions they didn’t know just because they were curious.  I had eighth graders disappointed that they didn’t take a chance and sign-up this year.  There were fifth graders who wanted to know how the competition worked and if they would know enough to compete next year.  This excitement and interest in science was all due to 12 SLOCA students that braved an unknown challenge.

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Thank you to Luke Llaurado, Kate Bischoff, Leah Rosales, Isaiah Ferrarini, Maya Hampsey, Scott Padalino, Zoe Peach-Riley, Alyssa Mickey, Caleb Scott, Coco Smith, Raegan Lunceford, and Quinn Ferrarini.  I am so grateful for your enthusiasm and your courage!  I am proud of you!  Thank you for inspiring other students to follow in your footsteps.

Heidi, thank you so much for coaching and encouraging our students! And for sharing this account of not only the day itself, but the excitement for science created by this challenge. Here are a few more photos from the Science Bowl:

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