What is Science Olympiad?

The Science Olympiad is an international nonprofit organization devoted to improving the quality of science education, increasing student interest in science, and providing recognition for outstanding achievement in science education by both students and teachers.

These goals are accomplished through classroom activities, research, training workshops and the encouragement of intramural, district, regional, state and national tournaments. The Science Olympiad tournaments are rigorous academic interscholastic competitions that consist of a series of team events, which students prepare for during the year. Some events follow the format of popular board games, TV shows and athletic games. These challenging and motivational events are well balanced between the various science disciplines of biology, earth science, chemistry, physics and technology. There is also a balance between events requiring knowledge of science concepts, process skills and science applications. In addition, during the day there are open house activities that consist of science and mathematics demonstrations, activities and career counseling sessions conducted by professors and scientists at the host institution occurring concurrently with the events.

Many states and regions have organized physics, biology or chemistry competitions, but few have combined all disciplines in one large Science Olympiad. The excitement of many students from all science areas competing and cheering one another on to greater learning caused one school district to coin the phrase "intellete". When they searched for a place to house their newly won Science Olympiad State Championship trophy, the only location available was outside the principal's office in the "athlete" showcase, so they convinced the school board to build an "intellete" showcase. An intellete is any person who demonstrates outstanding performance in an academic or intellectual pursuit (in this case, science). One of the goals of the Science Olympiad is to elevate science education and learning to a level of enthusiasm and support that is normally reserved only for varsity sports programs.

The Science Olympiad is modeled after successful Science Olympiad tournaments held in Delaware and Michigan that were introduced by Dr. Gerard J. Putz, Regional Science Center Director, Macomb Intermediate School District in Michigan and Jack Cairns, Science Supervisor, Delaware Department of Public Instruction. In these states, the following observations have been made:

If success can be measured by the number of students attending the competition, then the Science Olympiads are successful. Attendance has increased each year in both states. In Michigan, attendance increased from 600 students participating the first year to over two million today. In Delaware, 95% of the public secondary schools participate. After students attend the Science Olympiad for the first time, they usually return each year until they graduate from high school. If success can be measured by increasing science enrollments at home schools at a time of falling enrollments, then the Science Olympiads are successful. Many schools report increased student interest in science and increased enrollment in science classes. Some schools have reported a doubling of science class enrollments and a need to hire more science teachers. If success can be measured by the number of science teachers across the nation that support the effort, then the Science Olympiad is successful. Last year, over 14,000 elementary and secondary teams from Canada and all 50 states participated in the Science Olympiad programs.

All events require teamwork, group planning and cooperation. The emphasis is on learning, participation, interaction, having fun and developing team spirit. Coaches and students are reminded of the words of Bill Koch (Olympic Cross Country Ski medal winner), who said, "Winning isn't everything. The striving for excellence is - it's the trying and the caring that is important - winning is a bonus."

The first Michigan Science Olympiad competition was held at Lawrence Tech University in Southfield in 1983. The Michigan Science Olympiad Tournament has been held at Michigan State University since 1984. Michigan has also hosted three National Science Olympiad Tournaments: Michigan State University in 1985 and 1986, and Grand Valley State University in 1998.

The Science Olympiad Steering Committee concurs with research done by Drs. David and Roger Johnson, Dr. Madeline Hunter, Dr. Benjamin Bloom and Dr. Harry Wong that cooperation and teamwork, practicing toward an objective, improving skills through competition and making learning exciting through motivational activities are essential ingredients in attaining academic excellence. Dr. Bloom, in an article titled, "Talent Development vs. Schooling," described the process by which individuals reached extremely high levels of accomplishment. One of his conclusions was that competitions played a major role in the success of each talent area participant. "In each talent field there are frequent events (recitals, contests, concerts) in which the child's special capabilities are displayed publicly, and there are significant rewards and approval for meritorious accomplishments." He said children are spurred to greater learning efforts in anticipation of the public event and that such public events are a means of making the child's progress and development real and important. He concluded that they also bring participants into direct contact with one another and provide opportunities to exchange experiences and to observe and get to know outstanding peer and adult models of the talent.

Other research conducted by Calvin W. Taylor of the University of Utah has concluded, "Extra-curricular training experiences and accomplishments do show noticeable predictive power of later adult performance, achievement, and accomplishments." The value and implication of being involved in such extra-curricular activities as the Science Olympiad is apparent for developing productive high performing adults. With regard to predicting college success other than SAT scores and school grades, Educational Testing Service observed that "productive follow-through" defined as "persistent and successful extra-curricular accomplishment" indeed was the strongest predictor of leadership and significant independent accomplishment and clearly useful in predicting most overall college success.