Science Olympiad provides insight into new Michigan science standards

April 11, 2016

Igniting a competitive, but passionate flame inside of themselves, Stockbridge Science Olympians are preparing to rush the competition for the gold. The group exemplifies scientific curiosity and a tenacity for problem solving and teamwork. These Olympians are not running at breakneck speeds; however, they are encouraging a generation to see science education in a new way. In fact, this group reveals a glimpse of what future science classrooms will look like.

After years of debate and refinement, Michigan legislators approved the new Michigan Science Standards in November 2015. These guidelines were completely restructured instead of being updated as previous standards had been. Michigan became a lead state in the development of the multi-state effort that resulted in the Next Generation Science Standards, which were adopted and made into the Michigan Science Standards that will be implemented over the next few years.

According to the Michigan Department of Education, the standards revolve around three main elements: disciplinary core ideas, science and engineering practices and cross-cutting concepts. These elements are designed to span across multiple disciplines, rather than exclusively science concepts.

Science Olympiad co-coach Jeffery Trapp notices these ideas in Science Olympiad.

Examining the structure of a protein using a digital program, freshmen Shane Adams and Derek Young work to accurately represent the turns and bends in their biological molecule.

James White
Examining the structure of a protein using a digital program, freshmen Shane Adams and Derek Young work to accurately represent the turns and bends in their biological molecule.

“It’s actually showing the cross-cutting concepts that are in all sciences as far as the problem solving skills and the themes you see in science,” Trapp said. “Structure relates to function and engineering practices, using mathematics and models to demonstrate these science concepts.”

Activities in Science Olympiad can range from bridge building to protein construction and everything in between. All of the projects involve different knowledge from various subjects to be gathered by the students to complete, whether it be employing engineering physics and mathematics or understanding biological concepts and astronomy.

Testing his knowledge of mathematics and engineering skills, junior Larry Cornish constructs a Wright Brothers project.

“We are required to build a single-winged plane that flies in circles for a very long time,” Cornish said. This type of hands on work, previously reserved for clubs like Science Olympiad, and requiring cross-subject skills and concepts will be implemented along with the new standards in classrooms everywhere. Teachers will not simply be teaching subjects, but rather certain skill sets applicable to various situations.

“Hopefully, it will make the kids feel like a more holistic science class, rather than just learning physics, just learning bio, just learning chemistry,” Science Olympiad co-coach Bryan Tasior said. “The state of Michigan reduced the number of standards that I have to cover, so I have more freedom to cover the ones that they do require well and incorporate engineering into those.”

This system allows sets of the universal standards to be taught systematically by different teachers as opposed to just the material for that class. Permitting teachers to use projects, like the ones in Science Olympiad, for learning purposes across multiple classrooms, the standards create a new connection across several areas of study.

“I guess I would use Mr. Tasior’s windmill project,” Trapp said. “I can tie in the whole environmental science aspect of it, as far as the benefits to the environment and the alternative energy. Those are the types of things they are looking for us to do in the Next Generation Science Standards. That’s the push that we are trying to do more of. Do to learn instead of learn to do.”

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