Mike McKee, State Director
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Exploring the World of Science






Structure of the Competition




What is Science Olympiad?


Science Olympiad is a competition a competition for teams of students that compete in 23 different events that cut across the scientific disciplines including events in earth space science, engineering, biology, chemistry and physics.



What are the grade and team levels?


There are three divisions: A, B, C. Middle school is classified as a Division B Team, grade 6-9, high school is classified as a Division C team, grades 9-12 (yes there is an overlap in 9th grade). These two teams (B and C) compete in regional and state tournaments. Elementary school teams (K-5) are classified as A teams and currently only compete in small regional competitions. There is no statewide competition for elementary teams.


Who makes up a team?


Teams are comprised of up to 15 students, and it is allowable to have fewer. It is also required that an adult (often a teacher at the school, but it can be a parent) becomes the "coach" of the team. The coach acts as the official contact between Science Olympiad and the team.


We are often asked what is the smallest number that can be on a team and the answer is 1! We have found that teams that are well balanced with students across the grades (for example students on the high school team come from all grades, 9-12) are much more successful than those that load up on students in higher grades. We do have limits on the number of students that can be on each team. The following policies apply:

  • Only 7 seniors per team are permitted at Division C

  • Only 5 ninth graders per team are permitted at Division B

  • A division B team may not invite back the ninth graders if the feeding high school has a Science Olympiad team

In our elementary division, teams are comprised of up to 12 students and we have no limits on the number of students in each grade level that can compete.



How do I form a team?


Its actually easy! A big suggestion though: The first year will be most difficult in selling the idea of Science Olympiad to your students. It is difficult to visualize what the competition is all about and how it differs from other science competitions they may have experienced in the past. We suggest showing videos from YouTube and from our own site here that can help communicate the idea of Science Olympiad.


Then here are some ideas:

  • Have a meeting to gauge interest.
  • Show the list of events for the coming competition year.
  • Have students select the 3-4 events they would most interested be in doing.
  • Form a student leadership team of students to help with the organization of the team.
  • Always try to give students their top pick.
  • If you have a lot of interest, set up mini-competitions for each event to determine who is the best at competing in the event. Form the team from the top performers in each event. Other students who come in 2nd or 3rd in the mini-competition can be put onto a second or third tier team.
  • Have parents help out and coach the team. Often parents can help with a single event and it alleviates the amount of work on you, the coach.
  • Once your register, you will receive a rules manual. Make copies of the rules, distribute them to the students and have them practice practice practice! Here is one sample from the past. The rules are complex, but they have general guidelines to help with the preparation of the event.
  • Once the teams are formed, look at the schedule and determine which set of students will pair up to do each event. There will be conflicts, but this means that you will need to rework the students' schedule.
  • To lighten the load on the coach, try out the following idea: Coaches often run and get the supplies, materials, and labs for the students so they can practice. Instead, put the burden on the students. Give them the rules, have them find a lab, determine which materials are need, and then have them bring the lab idea to you. You should look it over to determine how well it fits the rules and if it is accurately being used to prepare the students for the event. If it is, they take the lab and practice with it. If it isn't give them suggestions on how to focus on the rules and the topics within the event and then return with a better lab activity. This puts the student in more control of their learning and they will be better prepared for the event.
  • Don't overlook our rules clarifications, policies, and information on our regional pages!
  • Finally, come to a workshop training! You will receive TONS of info. Its a great chance to ask lots of questions and network with others who have competed.

What is a tournament?


A tournament is a competition in which teams of up to 15 students compete in 23 different events. We have regional tournaments across the state that lead to the state tournament and a national tournament.



How many events are there?


There are 23 different events that are related to physics, chemistry, biology, engineering, inquiry, and earth space science. The events change every year, with 25% being completely new events, and 25% undergoing major revisions. This keeps our events fresh (and prevents successful teams from passing on their devices and knowledge to classmates and siblings!)


What types of events are there?

  • Lab based - events are those like Physics Lab, Forensics, or Can't Judge A Powder By Its Color, which require students to complete a lab activity during the competition. 
  • Research based events - events are those events like Amphibians and Reptiles, Disease Detectives, and Rocks and Minerals which encourage students to prepare research materials prior to the competition and use them in the event. 
  • Prebuilt events - are engineering events in which students build a device to accomplish a task or goal and the device is tested onsite at the competition.


Do I have to compete in all 23 events?


No. Scores accumulated by the teams are based on the performance of the indivdual student groups. The first year that a team competes, they will likely do many but not all of the events. However, to advance from regionals to a state tournament, it is difficult to do without competing in each event. Any event in which a team does not compete is considered to be a "Did Not Show" and will be given a score equivalent to the last place team + 1 point. (So if 20 teams compete in a tournament, and a team does not compete in Food Science, they will be given 21 points.) Lowest number of points determines the overall ranking of the team.


How many students can compete in each event? Can I send multiple sets of students to each event?


This is perhaps the most common question we get! With 15 students and 23 events, you can imagine that there is a bit of chaos as students go from one event to the next. Each of the 23 events is designed to be an event for 2, 3 or 4 students (most of our events allow 2 students only). Each TEAM is allowed to compete in each EVENT only 1 time. So while you might have 4 students who desparately want to do Bottle Rockets, only 2 will be allowed (because Bottle Rockets is an event in which 2 students work together on a single bottle rocket device). If you have a great deal of interest, you can form a second team and then the second team, independent of the first, is allowed to enter another set of 23 events.


Finally, pairs of students do not have to remain connected at the hip throughout the entire day. They can switch partners with other students on the same team as often as needed. Student 1 can be with Student 2 in Food Science, and then race off to do Bottle Rockets later in the day with Student 3.



Can students on my team get medals even though my team overall does poorly?


Yes! Event awards are based on the individual performance of the students, independent of the overall team. However, the team accumates points from the individual 23 events and this determines the rank of the team.


How are medals and team awards determined?


Each of the events are based on the rules and scored according to the guidelines found within the rules. Event supervisors will design the event according to the rules and based on performance will rank teams from first to last place. First place receives 1 point, second place 2 points and so on. The top three places in each event will be award medals (and each student receives a medal in that event).


For the team award, we add up the points across all 23 events for a total team score. The lowest overall team score is awarded first place. Take a look at previous scores here and you get a sense of how it works.


How do you determine who goes to state and national tournaments?


It is based on the performance of the teams overall. At the state tournament, 42 teams from each division (B and C) are invited (totalling 84 teams). Only the top 1 or 2 teams from each state in each division are invited to the national tournament. This is the reason why it is important to compete in as many events as possible. If a team does not compete in 1 or 2 events, it may be impossible to progress to the next level. It is here that we stress the following though: If this is your first year - come and have fun! Do as many events as possible and don't worry about getting to the next level. The teams will be motivated in ways you can't imagine!


How do I get my team number?


After you register, team numbers for the regionals are assigned by the regional directors. The state team number is assigned by the state director. These numbers will be different!


However, to help with planning for the state competition, you will be assigned a BLOCK number whe you register. If you proceed to the state, you will receive a team number that falls within the BLOCK number. (Each block number is comprised of a set of 7 team numbers; Block 1 is 1-7, Block 2 is 8-14, etc.)



How are the events scheduled?


A state schedule is published online by September. Each team is given a team number. The team numbers are assigned or slotted into different time blocks during the competition day. The teams MUST compete in the hour in which they are assigned. We have some events that are self scheduled. We have a system online that will open up about 2 weeks before the competition to allow teams to login and self-select time blocks.


Regionals also post their own schedules online and regionals assign their own team numbers. Team numbers at the regional competition WILL be different from the team numbers assigned at the state and national competitions.


What if there is a scheduling conflict?


Teams often contact us when this happens to ask if we can allow for a schedule change because they have an event conflict. Every team will have a scheduling conflict. We do not allow changes to team numbers or to event times prior to the competition. If a student has a conflict, they should be reassigned to a different event.



Is there a limit to the number of teams that I can have from a single school?


No. A school can have as many teams as they would like from a single school, but each team must have a coach (that is not coaching more than one team) and must pay a separate registration fee.


Can I form a team with students from other schools?


No. Superteam formation is not permitted. This is defined as a team in which students from multiple schools are placed onto a single team. National rules prohibit this.



How do I read the rules?


The rules are complex! Here is a sample to examine. Food Science is an event that requires students to conduct a laboratory activity. The activity itself it not defined explicitly, but the general concepts that will be tested are presented. It is important that the students study and prepare materials based on the concepts outlined in the rules. The rules also contain important information on what they MUST bring (these are required items, such as googles or aprons) and without them, they will not be allowed to compete. In some cases, the rules might state that they SHOULD bring certain items. These are items, such as a binder of information, pens, pencils, calculators, that are not required, but it will certainly impair their ability to perform at high levels should they not have them.


In every case, examine the scoring section. This section contains clues on what is important and what is not. It also contains the relative weight of items that will be scored. This will help you determine what is important and what is not.


In the case of the building events, there are often two sections: A Construction Section and a Competition Section. While the event writers do everything they can to communicate construction parameters clearly, confusion does occur. At times, items in the competition section can impact how the device is built, even if a criteria is not specifcally listed in the construction section.


Finally, keep this rule in mind: "If it is not specifcally forbidden in the rules, it is allowable as long as it does not violate the spirit of the rules" Now this appears to be a "gotcha" rule doesn't it! But it is not really. It just means that you should use common sense in interpretting the rules. If it feels like it could violate a rule, contact Mike and discuss it so that students are not inadvertently disqualified.


What is an impound event?


Events that state they must be impounded (this is found in the rules at the top and will show "Impound: Yes") require that a student from the team drop off the prebuilt device in the morning before all the event time blocks begin. The event supervisor will inspect the device for construction violations and then the students will return at their assigned time to compete with the device. This is designed to prevent teams from seeing what others have done and then make last minute modifications that would benefit a team that may be competing later in the day.