This is the long-awaited post on the Physics Olympics meet at my school. My team came in 6th out of eight teams (we were expecting nine teams, actually) but I had a lot of kids participate and most of them had fun!
As the host, I kicked things off. As you can see from the photo, I wore a hat. The day was pretty warm, so I wore a straw hat. I always wear some sort of hat, because it makes me identifiable. Instead of “the dark-haired lady in the glasses and the red shirt,” I am “the lady in the hat.” This works at Science Olympiad as well. Since I had written two of the problem-solving problems each team got, they could ask me questions about my problems. They just had to find the lady in the hat.
We had two build-ahead events: mousetrap boat and toothpick egg-toss. Both were great fun, but they also both had their own logistical problems.
Mousetrap boat was the first event of the day. We had to set up two long troughs of water, with plastic on the floor (we were in the school gym, which is still fairly new) and some tables and chairs, and all the boats had to be checked to make sure they qualified under the rules of the event. Then, teams of two or three for each boat would come up, launch their boat down one trough by burning through a string holding the mousetrap in the “ready” position. They collected their boat at the end (if it made it) and re-set it under a time limit to run down the other trough. The times were added for the total score.
My kids had been building their boats in class and tested them two days before the meet. Only a couple of the boats were able to make it all the way from one end to the other, from our school, so those were the only boats from our school that competed. I was pleased that we made 4th place overall!
After the boat races, I had some students in the main office announcing the rotation events over the PA system. For 25 minutes at a time, teams of students from each school were shut in classrooms to compete in “penny barge,” “mystery lab,” and “paper clip tower.” A limited number of kids are allowed in the room, and parents who have been trained by teacher coaches the hour before judge the results. We had 8 rooms operating at any given time, with 2-5 parents in each. It’s a pretty big operation.
The “penny barge” is an event where a team gets a single square of Reynold’s brand aluminum foil and a big pile of wet pennies. They have to fold or otherwise shape the foil into a boat or barge, float it in a big tub of water, and start loading it up with pennies. Students can dry the pennies if they wish, but they have to bring their own towels. Once the boat sinks, the pennies are counted by loading them onto an angle-iron and measuring the “height” of the stack. The tallest stack of pennies wins!
The mystery lab was based on projectile motion, and students had to predict where a projectile would land when launched from the same launching device at two different angles. My kids did terribly at that…we had not practiced it, and practice is key.
The paper clip tower was an event where kids had 10 rubber bands, a box of paper clips, and 15 cm of masking tape, and had to build the tallest possible tower. They could bring in pens, pencils, rulers, scissors, pliers, and craft knives, but no plans or photos. They had to get their towers measured before the 25 minutes were up, which my team did not manage to do: a strategy problem.
Once the 25-minute events were over, the teams had to hand in their problems back in the gym, where the mousetrap boat group had dismantled their area and the egg-toss team had set up a different one. This one was a plastic-covered section of floor that was covered with sheets of newspaper, surrounded by a border of swimming-pool noodles, and with a high-jump device mounted on one side. Students had to toss their toothpick-and-glue device underhanded to get it over the two meter high string without touching the string. Then it had to land in the landing area without breaking the egg inside the device. The lightest successful device is the winner.
This was an odd event for us. One of the devices we’d tested successfully in school failed the real event, and another device we’d tested unsuccessfully in school did very well and got a good score! We came in 5th place.
So, why is Darrell my new best friend? Darrell is the custodian who was assigned to work the event. He unlocked doors; granted access to the custodial closet for the mousetrap boat set-up team, who arrived an hour ahead of everyone else; got us into the concession stand in the gym lobby; and provided lots of tables and rolling trash cans. Darrell set up and tested the gym’s PA system, got the bleachers out for us, kept track of kids wandering around the building where they didn’t belong, and smiled the whole time.
In addition, the week before the event, I talked with Darrell several times as other coaches called or e-mailed with requests. He assured me that all would go well, made suggestions, and calmed my nerves. He spent time in my room after school to go over the details, watched over the facilities and provided extra paper towels. Darrell was the best. Other coaches also commented on how smoothly the event ran. Things started and ended on time, and we were all cleaned up and out of the gym exactly on schedule.
It was fantastic, and I am very glad that I probably won’t have to host another meet for another two years. I slept all afternoon afterward!
Thank you very much to RW for the photos, to all the coaches and parent volunteers for making the events run, and to Darrell!