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‘Brain sports’ gives middle school students a new challenge

Science Olympiad team members show off their medals. Pictured are front row, Nixon Franta, Shloke Jani, Ethan Pitzer; second row, Julia Ginsbach, Charlie Iverson, Abby Olson; third row, Jacob Ailabouni, Erin Miller, Franklin Xiao, Liam Thoreson, Annika Lautenbach; and fourth row, Will Weiskopf, Jason Denny, Lauren Chukel and Alex Ewig. (submitted photo)1 / 3
Coach Matt Anderson helps a team member work through a problem. Anderson said because of the large number of events, students are required to be the expert in their topic.2 / 3
Nixon Franda shows how his Rube Goldberg machine works. The machine is one of the 23 challenges the science olympiad team competes in at meets. 3 / 3

Hudson middle schoolers have stepped up to the plate for a new type of challenge with the Science Olympiad team.

In its second year, STEM teacher/coach Matt Anderson said he wants to see the “brain sport” at the middle school make its way to the state level as well as be on par with other sports like football and basketball.
“Having competitive brain sports basically is an important option for kids to have,” Anderson said. “Our goal is to build up the program so we can be talking about state championships.”

The work is going well so far. The team earned 22 medals at its last competition, compared to two last year.

“The growth just in one year has been so substantial,” Anderson said.

The Science Olympiad consists of two teams of 15 students. At the three competitions throughout the year, the teams split into pairs and compete in 23 different events. Each student ends up participating in three or four events.

Events range from strictly academic tests to hands-on engineering builds. Anderson said this works well as students are gifted in different ways.

Topics include a variety of different sciences, from engineering to biology. For eighth-grader Julia Ginsbach, science is why she likes being a part of the team.

“You can be a nerd and a geek or whatever, and it’s just cool like that,” she said.

With so many events at each competition, Anderson can only provide general guidance. Students take on a stronger level of responsibility for their own events.

“I tell them all the time they need to be the experts at their event,” Anderson said. “Passing on that responsibility to them is huge, especially for a seventh- or sixth-grader.”

Team members said they enjoyed the added challenge Science Olympiad brings to their education. Seventh-grader Alex Ewig said he joined the team for that reason.

“Science wasn’t super challenging for me, and I wanted to try something out of school to see if it was challenging enough.”

Fellow seventh-grader Ethan Pitzer said the difficulty of the team is how he continues to learn.

“Sitting in science class you understand the concepts a lot more than other kids, and I mean in here you feel like an idiot,” he said, which is the best way to learn.

Anderson said he hopes the experience teaches the kids more than just science. The team shows kids how to be problem-solvers, to be resilient, to persevere in the face of unanswered questions, and to follow their curiosity.

“Those are skills that if they decide to go into a STEM career, great, but it doesn’t matter what they go into, those skills will transcend,” Anderson said. “That’s really the hope that they just become well-rounded.”

As the kids continue to learn and the program grows, Anderson said he is looking for more connections within the community. He said the team could use support from local professionals who are willing to donate time to guide kids through specific events.

“That’s stuff that we’re looking for, getting the link to community involvement,” Anderson said. “The more hands on deck, the better.”

Rebecca Mariscal

Rebecca Mariscal joined the Hudson Star Observer as a reporter in 2016. She graduated from the University of St. Thomas with a degree in communication and journalism. 

(715) 426-1066
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