Wearing grade-level specific jerseys and eyeing a rack of medals, 90 Liberty Hill Middle School science athletes entered the gym for the school’s annual Science Olympics recently.
In a longtime tradition at the Killeen school, 30 students representing each grade – sixth, seventh and eighth – competed in a series of science-related events, then a culminating finale to determine winners.
“It’s all about the kids,” said eighth-grade teacher Roger Allen, who started the annual event and continues to direct it. “They have a chance to be creative. I love to see the sparkle in their eyes.”
Now in his 43rd year as an educator, Allen said he never tires watching students have so much fun learning that they forget they’re at school.
After cycling through five rotations that resembled game show contests, students divided into teams within their grade levels for the final test to build balloon-powered vehicles with compact disc wheels, straw and other simple items.
In one corner of the gym, a group of eighth-graders worked to perfect their vehicles. Brenna Gardener, in her third and final Science Olympics, said the event was a good combination of relaxing with friends and competing to win.
“You get to try different things to see what works,” she said of the final group project. “I like the engineering of this project.” She explained the challenge to rig together wheels to stay in place just long enough to propel the vehicle the furthest.
In the end, it was seventh-grader Jaelyn Perez with the longest-running balloon-powered car at 22 feet and 4 inches.
She explained that she made slits in her straw that helped hold the CD wheels in place and she angled the straw in a way to keep the craft straight as it rolled slowly across the slick gym floor.
Eighth-grader Clayton Sursa was part of the first-place team for his grade for the third straight year. He said finishing first was not important compared to the experience.
“I like that we get into groups and have fun together,” he said while preparing for the culminating car trials. “I think this motivates kids to do well so they can be a part of this kind of activity.” Students qualify to make the Olympics teams.
He said his balloon car design wasn’t as effective as others on his team. “We have a lot of ideas, and we’ll go with the best,” he said.
“I like science,” Sursa said, “because it’s something you can do in real life.”
Todd Martin is an employee of the KISD communications department and writes about students, teachers and school events.