Loveland Classical kids test their brains in middle school science bowl

Loveland team places in the middle of the pack at regional competition at Mountain View High School

By CRAIG YOUNG | | Loveland Reporter-Herald

Four science whiz kids from Loveland Classical Schools got a taste of the fast and furious world of science knowledge competitions Saturday with the school’s first foray into the statewide Middle School Science Bowl regionals.

The competition at Mountain View High School in Loveland involved 24 teams from 15 middle schools across the state, which were vying for the opportunity to represent Colorado at the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Science Bowl in Washington, D.C., at the end of April.

After the initial six-round portion of the contest, Loveland Classical came out with a 2-4 record, which wasn’t good enough to advance the kids to the double-elimination round.

In the end, a team from Preston Middle School in Fort Collins took home the trophy and the all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, its third win in a row. A team from another Fort Collins school, Kinard Core Knowledge, took second place, and Rocky Heights Middle School in Lone Tree came in third.

The same three schools finished in the same order last year.

“We ended up in 17th place, but the kids had a good time,” said Evan Willis, who teaches sixth- and seventh-grade science at Loveland Classical and is the team’s co-coach. “We gained some really good experience from it, so we kind of know what things to study for next year.”

With only 5 seconds to answer each “toss-up” question, the students struggled with the math queries, Willis said.

“That was a little eye-opening,” he said. “You have to know it or you don’t, basically. You don’t have time to work out equations, it’s so fast.”

After a few rounds, the team members hit their stride, he said, as they got more comfortable.

“Next year, we’ll be more ready,” Willis said.

Loveland Classical was represented by team captain Noah Elliott, an eighth-grader; Isaac Green, seventh grade; Maddie Holloway, seventh grade; and Aiden Rotner, sixth grade.

Tough questions

Co-coach Evan Willis, a middle school science teacher at Loveland Classical Schools, encourages team members Isaac Green, center, and Maddie Holloway during a break in the action Saturday at the Colorado Regional Middle School Science Bowl at Mountain View High School in Loveland. (Craig Young / Loveland Reporter-Herald)

The event, sponsored by the U.S. Energy Department’s Western Area Power Administration headquarters in Loveland, covered tough questions in the areas of life science, physical science, earth and space science, energy and mathematics.

The questions were challenging, and while the students sometimes breezed through complex queries, other times both teams were stumped.

For a taste of the difficulty, here are some sample question from the national Science Bowl website:

Toss-up (5 seconds to answer): “The length of a meter was re-defined in 1983 to be based on what physical quantity?”

W) A wavelength of krypton-86 radiation.

X) The distance light travels in a specific fraction of a second in a vacuum.

Y) The length of a one-kilogram bar of iridium.

Z) A specific fraction of the length of the meridian through Paris from the North Pole to the Equator.

Answer: X) The distance light travels in a specific fraction of a second in a vacuum.

Bonus (20 seconds to answer): “A liver cell has stopped functioning, and a scientist observes that it is producing lactic acid. Failure of what organelle most likely caused the liver cell to stop functioning?”

W) Mitochondrion.

X) Nucleus.

Y) Ribosome.

Z) Golgi Body.

Answer: W) Mitochondrion.

The competition was fast-paced, giving the children no time between rapid-fire questions to celebrate points won or mourn answers muffed.

Each of the four competitors had a buzzer. Each 4-point “toss-up” question could be answered by any team member, and no discussion among the kids was allowed. If a team got the toss-up correct, it was given a 10-point bonus question, and members were allowed to confer.

If a team missed the toss-up, the other team was given a shot at it.

Loveland Classical’s first round wasn’t even close. Team 3 from Preston Middle School in Fort Collins, which sent a team to nationals last year, came out of the gate fast, correctly answering question after question while the Loveland kids tried to get their feet under them.

At the end of the 8-minute-long first half of the round, it was Preston 40, Loveland Classical 8.

The second half wasn’t much better for the Loveland team. It lost, 76-16.

Gaining confidence

But the kids’ confidence seemed to blossom in the short interlude before Round 2 as Coach Willis and Jaime Rotner, Aiden’s mom, handed out encouragement.

The kids from Loveland knocked out three of the first four toss-up questions, mashing the buzzer before the Gilpin County team members could gather their wits. At the end of the round, Loveland had a win, 34-12.

All the Loveland competitors admitted to being nervous at first, and though Isaac said he was shaking a little, he wasn’t as nervous as he used to get before wrestling tournaments.

And the kids shook their heads over questions they should have gotten right, and others that they had no time to figure out.

The team prepared for the competition by having mock competitions during regular meetings at school, Willis said.

“We met up during lunch Tuesdays and Thursdays,” Isaac said, “and I might have paid attention a little more during science class this year.”