Take out your rulers and put on your goggles — this week’s Around Davidson is dedicated to science and math and some of the people in our town who help make those subjects exciting for kids. We’ve chosen this special focus because Saturday will be a day when both subjects will be on display in a special way for Davidson folks. Math professors at Davidson College will give their own twist to bracketology by offering “March MATHness” to the 6th through 12th grade crowd. Kids and teachers will be able to learn math through mime and more and there’s still time to register.
Meanwhile, keep your fingers crossed for Davidson IB Middle’s Science Olympiad team, which will be competing at UNC-Charlotte. We spent an afternoon with some of the the team members and were dazzled by their high-tech science skills. Good luck, DIB Dragons!
DAVIDSON IB TEAM READY FOR SCIENCE OLYMPIAD
Four days until the competition. Students holding things like duct tape and calculators bustle in and out of science teacher Tiffany Sabin‘s classroom at Davidson IB Middle School. Parent coaches hover in the background. Students who are not team members are shooed away. In between handing out safety goggles, locating chemistry equipment and accepting checks for team t-shirts, Ms. Sabin described Saturday’s regional tournament at UNCC as her favorite part of Science Olympiad.
“It’s chaotic, but Saturday is when we can finally show what we know,” she said.
Science Olympiad has been at Davidson IB for 10 years – longer than Ms. Sabin – and has developed into a vibrant program that has made it to the national level six times in the past eight years. Last year the Davidson team was the 24th best in the country.
“There’s only 240 kids at this school, and we have about 40 of them in Science Olympiad,” Ms. Sabin pointed out, adding that the school has one varsity and two JV teams and holds an in-house competition each December to decide who will make the varsity squad.
Both varsity and JV squads divide into smaller teams to compete in 23 different categories that are either “knowledge based” (like Road Scholar, which involves the study of maps and is a category in which Davidson has won gold medals) or “engineering based” (which means building something cool, like a bridge or a catapult). Most students compete in more than one category.
And what are the prospects for this year?
“It’s hard to tell at this point,” Ms. Sabin said. “All of our teams are working very hard, but things can always go wrong at the competition – rockets can get stuck in trees, things like that.” She recalled that last year, the “Wright Stuff” team’s balsa airplane broke apart just as the team was walking into the competition area. “You just never know with the building events. They’re the hardest.”
One likely scenario, though, is that this year, as in most years, the main competition for Davidson IB will be Jay M. Robinson.
“For the kids, it’s a rivalry, but for me and the coaches at Jay M. Robinson, there’s no rivalry and we share resources,” Ms. Sabin said. “When we win a medal, they cheer for us and we do the same for them. It’s beautiful.”
Over in a corner of Ms. Sabin’s room, where veteran competitors Bradley Davis and Thomas Thornton were pondering electrical circuitry, it was assumed that Jay M. Robinson would be the team to beat, both Saturday and at the state level competition.
“We’ve always been good, friendly competitors,” said Thomas. “We just want to get North Carolina represented at nationals.”
This year, Thomas has another rivalry on his mind. The Davidson IB “Future Cities” team won its national competition last month in Washington, D.C., earning the prize of a trip to the White House to visit with President Obama.
Will the Science Olympiad team need to match that result?
“Sort of,” said Bradley.
“Yes,” said his teammate. Thomas, as it turns out, is involved in both Future Cities and Science Olympiad. He described the former as a large group project focused on creating computer models of an imagined city, while Science Olympiad allows for small team investigations into a wide variety of topics.
“I joined Science Olympiad because all the different events gave opportunities to learn different things that I wouldn’t learn anywhere else … like ornithology,” Thomas explained.
Out in the hallway, Adam Carriker was busy measuring a course for the “Battery Buggy” team, which would need to make a battery-powered contraptions travel not just as far as it could go, but rather a specific distance. A distance that would not be announced until the competition started.
Adam is a sophomore at North Meck High and an alum of the Davidson IB Science Olympiad program. Saturday, he’ll be juggling his own high school team entries in the contest with his coaching of the Battery Buggy kids.
“They’re doing pretty well,” the coach said. “We’re still making some last calibrations.”
While Science Olympiad has helped Thomas dabble in many things, for Adam it has helped focus his career interests – he is now considering the field of robotics.
“I didn’t really know much about robotics until I started Science Olympiad,” he said. But he couldn’t talk much, because just then the buggy buzzed by. Adam headed off, holding a sheet covered with scribbles of calculations.
Ms. Sabin describes Adam as an example of what Science Olympiad offers.
“It opens doors for these kids,” she said. “They put hours and hours into this. They’re just so dedicated.”
MARCH MATHNESS AT DAVIDSON COLLEGE
March Madness may have ended too quickly for the men’s and women’s basketball teams at Davidson College, but it hasn’t even started for the math department. Saturday, math professors and students will be offering “March MATHness” from 10 a.m. until 4:15 p.m. at the college’s Chambers Building.
The program is aimed at 6th-12th grade students and teachers, with topics like “the beautiful mathematics that lurks behind locker problems” and the minimum number of flips it takes to sort a stack of pancakes.
Organizing the event is Tiffany Scheff, the outreach coordinator for a three-year grant the college has received from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to bring math and science into the community. March MATHness follows a recent event, “Mosaic,” that brought math and science to elementary-school kids, introducing them to such cool skills as how to make slime.
Professor Tim Chartier noted that he and his colleagues were already involved in outreach, but the new grant allows coordination locally.
“This is much larger than anything I would have ever attempted,” Dr. Chartier said of both the Mosaic and the March MATHness events. “I would have been afraid to take that on!’
Dr. Chartier offers a unique collaboration for the new grant, since he has been immersed in drama for much longer than he has been a specialist in the field of applied mathematics.
“I started doing puppetry when I was 10 years old,” he said. “By the time I was 18 I was performing.”
He and his wife, Tanya Chartier, both of Davidson, have studied mime with the late Marcel Marceau, and have put together a math-based performance called Mime-matics. The show demonstrates infinity through a classic mime act of pulling on an imaginary rope, shows the romance in odd numbers through the vehicle of plungers and more.
“I first performed this for Rosemary Klein’s class at Davidson Elementary about five years ago,” Tim said. “It’s evolved from there. I’m an applied mathematician, so this brings to the forefront how math is in everyday life.”
Ms. Scheff said the Mosaic event, which featured the Chartiers’ Mime-matics, drew about 70 kids.
Surveys of parents after the event showed 24.6 percent of families reporting that Mosaic led them to do more math and science activities together. That is exactly the kind of result the grant is designed to encourage.
“We want the kids to learn something, but we also want to try to change perceptions and work on ‘math-phobia’,” said Ms. Scheff. She said one of the little girls who attended Mosaic had been planning a princess party for her birthday but changed the theme to a science party.
“That’s the best feedback I had – getting a princess party changed to a science party,” said Ms. Scheff.
Besides the special weekend events, the new grant is also allowing a group called Davidson Student Volunteers for Science to head out into local middle schools to conduct science labs. Ms. Scheff said 98 Davidson College students are part of that effort, which should continue in the fall.
Meanwhile, the Chartiers will follow Saturday’s March MATHness event (register by clicking here and try to do it by Friday night to give Ms. Scheff time to order enough lunches), with an appearance March 27 at the Julia Robinson Mathematics Festival, a free event at UNC-Charlotte aimed at middle school girls (check out this one by clicking here).
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