The three grade-level teams, with their fresh jerseys and shiny medals hanging on the gymnasium stands, might have been preparing for a sporting event.
There was excitement and competition, points and strategy. The sport was science.
For the eighth year, Liberty Hill Middle School gathered its top science students, forming 30-member teams for sixth, seventh and eighth grade.
On the day before the Thanksgiving break, the chosen 90 gathered in the gym, picked up their Science Olympics T-shirts and took part in five competitive events.
The events tested science knowledge, and mixed in the act of measuring and weighing and games like Jeopardy and Pictionary.
After lunch, students reconvened for a science challenge, with teams working to construct the fastest balloon-powered race cars to breeze across the gym floor in a final race for medals.
Students took about 90 minutes to build cars from foam with compact disc wheels and straws for axles and two balloons for wind power. The cars demonstrated Newton’s Third Law of Motion that every action brings an equal and opposite reaction.
Students competed among grade levels. The three top grade-level finishers raced in the finals. Eighth-grader Briley Littlejohn won the event with a balloon-powered car that rolled 21 meters. The seventh grade won the most points overall.
After the final race, Briley showed how she taped her balloon (the engine) at the rear of the foam-plate car instead of in the middle. She also taped the balloon to the car directly, which she said provided maximum impact.
In her second Science Olympics, the car race champion said the day is special for students. “It tests our knowledge and it’s a day we don’t have to go to class and we have fun.”
To begin the medal ceremony, Lt. Col. Bryan Tash, commander of the 9th Air Support Operations Squadron, presented commander’s coins to the top car race finishers. Briley, seventh-grader Carolina Cass and sixth-grader Jaidyn Bridges received the coins. The squadron assisted with the games.
The power of the Science Olympics is that students learn unconsciously.
“They don’t realize they’re learning,” said Liberty Hill academic adviser Janis Kahanek. The former science teacher said the current science teachers continue to allow her to join in the fun.
“They are having fun competing against the grade levels and they are learning from each other,” Kahanek said.
After a heated Pictionary game, with teams drawing pictures to help their teammates guess terms such as body system, atom or acid rain, eighth-grader Gwyneth Udy said the day was a special one.
“I like missing school and playing the games,” said Gwyneth, a repeat participant. “We learn how to work together and we learn science.”
The school’s approximately 880 students, took a science test to qualify for the event, drawing out about 10 percent of the school’s enrollment.
“These are top students and they’re competitive,” said Kahanek. “They all want to win. They learn to work as a team, not just as individuals.”
Eighth-grader Victoria Kim, a repeat competitor, said the games challenge her thinking.
“It stretches how you think,” Victoria said as she worked on her balloon car. “You do thinking you don’t usually do in school.”