Area students compete in Science Olympiad

Published 8:00 am Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Kincheloe Elementary fourth-grade student Christopher Moiser uses a violin bow to vibrate his group’s Chlandi plate. (Leader photo/TED YOAKUM)

Kincheloe Elementary fourth-grade student Christopher Moiser uses a violin bow to vibrate his group’s Chlandi plate. (Leader photo/TED YOAKUM)

A group of Cassopolis third-grade students were let out of school Wednesday morning to go play with toys.

And a balance scale.

Wednesday marked the 21st annual Cass County Science Olympiad, held on the Dowagiac campus of Southwestern Michigan College. Hundreds of students from the Dowagiac, Cassopolis and Edwardsburg school districts got the opportunity to experience science hands on instead simply reading about in a textbook.

Third, fourth and fifth-grade students were ushered from activity to activity throughout the morning by parent and teacher volunteers. Activities ranged from geology lessons, in which students analyzed different kinds of rocks, to astronomy, in which students mapped out various stars and planets around the galaxy.

However, true to the name “Olympiad,” a few of the activities involved students facing off in head-to-head competition against each other, in a fun yet educational, fashion.

“There’s some serious competitions, and there’s some serious exhibitions as well,” said event organizer Brian Wood.

Wood and other organizers with the Lewis Cass ISD encouraged parents to help out when necessary, but urged them allow students to discover solution to hard problems on their own.

Despite the competitive aspect of some activities, organizers wanted to maintain a low-stress environment for the elementary students, placing a focus on learning over reward, Wood said.

Inside a classroom in the school’s nursing wing, Dori Hughes, an instructor with Edwardsburg Intermediate School, taught third-grade students how to find the mass of objects using a balance scale. Kids were given a bag of stuffed animals and McDonald’s Happy Meal toys to measure, working in pairs to discover and record the mass of each item.

Upstairs, another group of third graders worked in pairs to power a light bulb using a couple alligator clips to connect the bulb to a D-cell battery. Once they accomplished that, the teams were given the challenge of creating a working switch to power the bulb on and off when flicked.

“The kids love this,” said Karen Ennessen, the instructor for the exercise. “There are a lot of great hands-on learning opportunities for students to do here.”

Meanwhile, fourth-grade students got a chance to learn more about modes of vibration using Chladni plates. Students rubbed a violin bow against the sand covered plates, creating unique patterns based on the duration and force used to vibrate the metal sheet.

“Some of the sounds that come from the plates are ghastly sounding, but then again, they’re not violins,” said Tom Caskey, who supervised the exercise.

Caskey constructed the plates himself, and said he would like to see schools start using them for regular instruction.

After breaking for lunch, students sat down in the school auditorium for a special demonstration by “birdman” Joe Rogers, who showed off different kinds of owls living in the region.

It wasn’t just the students who were impressed by the amount of things to do Wednesday morning.

“The events are fun and very interesting,” said chaperone Jackie Olson, who’s son, Jackson, attends Kincheloe elementary. “Plus, I get to hang to out with the kids. It’s almost like being a kid again myself.”