SF high school team competes in science games
March 2, 2009 9:28 PM
While high school senior, Matt Grumbach's friends went to a party on a recent Friday, Grumbach opted to stay home and study instead. It was the night before he and his team mates from San Francisco's Lick-Wilmerding High School would face off with 13 regional high schools in an intense academic competition. The competition, the National Ocean Science Bowl (NOSB), is an annual event where high school teams show off their knowledge about the ocean sciences in a series of elimination-style show downs.
"[My friends at school] think it's great that I'm doing this, but they definitely laugh and think it's funny," said Grumbach. "But I'm not afraid of saying that I'm a little bit nerdy."
This year's NOSB regional competition, the Sea Lion Bowl, took place for the first time at San Francisco State University on Feb. 21. Sixteen teams from Northern California schools battled it out at the all-day event that lasted from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Each team, with at least four students per, were tested on eight topics ranging from chemistry to marine policy and geology.
Winning teams from the regionals take a paid trip to Washington, D.C. to compete at the nationals. According to the NOSB Web site, 300 schools and more than 2000 students participate in the competition every year. While many of this year's Northern California teams have participated before -- some even advancing to the finals -- this was Lick-Wilmerding's first year at the competition.
"This morning I was feeling pretty relaxed before the first round, but what I found is that when I got into the [competition] room, I definitely felt a little more apprehensive," Grumbach said. "In the first round, I barely even buzzed in for an answer."
The Lick-Wilmerding team, consisting of four members and one alternate, practiced up to two times a week since late November, said Grumbach. These meetings, which took place either during their lunch period or after school, lasted approximately forty minutes. According to the team's coach, Gillian Ashenfelter, they did everything from studying textbooks to watching the Discovery Channel's "Blue Planet" video on the coral seas.
Ashenfelter, who teaches biology and marine ecology at Lick-Wilmerding, said one of the challenges as a new team was trying to figure out what kind of questions would be featured at the competition. "It seems like such a broad science competition, that to prepare seems a little futile. It's like, either you know it or you don't," she said. "But at the same time, we need to prepare."
Two days before the Sea Lion Bowl, Ashenfelter sat at a desk in one of the high school's science classrooms. Around her, colorful marine decorations are tacked to the walls. She admits the team is probably not ready, but their goal is just to have fun. "We don't really expect to win, so it's all just about the experience of going and seeing what it's all about," she said.
On competition day, the Lick-Wilmerding team joined their competitors at SF State's Thornton Hall building. Each 30-minute round pinned two teams against each other. The teams rotated from classroom to classroom, facing off on timed team challenges and multiple choice toss-up questions that used Jeopardy-style buzzers.
The Lick-Wilmerding team won two rounds and lost their third, guaranteeing them a spot in the next bracket of the competition. Entering the next bracket meant the team would have two matches to lose before they were eliminated. In their fifth round of the day, the Lick-Wilmerding team lost their match to San Jose's Andrew P. Hill High School, which meant elimination.
Erin Kiskaddon, Lick-Wilmerding's team captain, said she felt the questions in each round became progressively harder.
"As the questions became really hard, I was focusing on, 'Okay, we can't let [the other team] think through the questions, because they're getting the [buzz-in's] really fast and their guesses right,'" Kiskaddon said. "So we just had to try to guess before them and hopefully get it right."
Grumbach described the matches as tense, and said he was relieved when everything was over. "I think we did well and performed well with one another," said Grumbach. "When it came to the team challenges, we were able to listen to each other and piece together things we wouldn't have known individually."
Teacher coach, Ashenfelter said it was fun to see her students motivated by an academic competition, versus being motivated by a grade. "A lot of [the students] compete athletically, but some of them don't. It's fun to recognize that academics can be rewarded, and there can be competition for those, as well."
At the evening's closing banquet at SF State's Seven Hills Conference Center, awards were handed out to the top teams. Mission San Jose High School, Team B won first place after 11 rounds of competition. The Team Spirit Award went to the School of the Arts, while the Sportsmanship Award went to Oakland High. Lick-Wilmerding was awarded with Best New Team.
For more information on the NOSB, visit their Web site at NOSB.org. For more information on results of the Sea Lion Bowl, visit rtc.sfsu.edu/SeaLionBowl.
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