Tuesday, February 25, 2014

MSMS Math Tournament

MSMS hosts a math tournament annually. Mu Alpha Theta runs it and sets it all up, but every student is assigned a task. I was assigned to be a committee head for the Algebra I/Geometry written test and ciphering competition.
Most students are either runners or graders. Runners collect answers from the ciphering competition and graders score and tally correct answers. As a committee head, my job is to check students in in the morning, get scores and forms to the Tally Room, and generally sort scores, check answers, take care of problems, and do whatever is required. I also will be staying at the Convention Center until at least 3, while most students will return before lunch.
The experience of working the competition has actually been sort of fun. It's hectic, and is an amazing example of ordered chaos. All sorts of things went wrong, but problems were dealt with, and the event still went off very well overall.
We also get the day off class, which is a nice bonus. This wouldn't be nearly as fun if I knew that I was going to return to school having missed four classes, many of which are labs. I also enjoyed learning about the planning that goes on behind hosting any sort of competition.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Science Olympiad North Regionals

This Saturday was regionals for Science Olympiad at Mississippi State University. I've never done Science Olympiad before, and I didn't know what it was going to be like at all. I only had one event at regionals, although I have three events for state.
I took the A&P test for MSMS, along with my partner. We scored 2nd place. One of Oxford's teams placed 3rd and one of Oxford's teams placed 1st. We understood that only the nervous and integumentary systems would be on the test, but we found out that immune was also on the test. I suppose that was just what we got for not studying ahead for state. Luckily, I knew some of the immune system answers. However, there were others that I could not remember for when I took AP Biology, which was frustrating.
I have a lot of studying to do before state - the immune system, more about the nervous and integumentary systems, chem lab, and water quality. However, I feel like the whole team did really well at regionals. Regionals forces us to prepare for state before the last minute. Our build events were all pretty spectacular.
Collectively, our team placed 1st in the competition. There were six or seven other high schools present, and Oxford's two teams took 2nd and 3rd. Oxford will be upset about the loss, and ready to win at state, which is why we cannot rest on our laurels yet.

University of Alabama Physics Competiton

Last Tuesday, I attended the physics competition at the University of Alabama. The first part of the competition was the individual written test. I was surprised that I had learned how to do many of the problems (I have not yet completed my first year of physics). However, it was rather frustrating that I had forgotten many of the equations to complete the problems; I'm used to an equation sheet with my physics tests. The test was very heavy on mechanics, and didn't include much of what we've learned in waves, although there was some work with circuits, which we have not covered yet. One of our students placed ninth out of all the students present in the individual test, the only one of our students to place.
The second part of the competition was a team competition. My team did decently well. MSMS is the only school in our division, so there were seven teams of MSMS students competing against each other. Normally, the AL School for Math and Science is in our division as well, but due to the rescheduling and short notice, they didn't make it this year. MSMS-6 took 1st place. MSMS-1 took 2nd place. And MSMS-2, my team, took 3rd place.
After the competition portion of the day, there are physics demos and so on to interest smart physics students in coming to University of Alabama to study physics. Unfortunately, I have little understanding of what people actually do in current physics, so much of the information about the search for neutrinos and dark matter was completely lost on me. The other presentation was rather disappointing - they were demonstrating using the same motion sensing equipment and DataStudio software that we routinely use in class. I suppose they had no way to know that we were already familiar with that system, but we were not the only ones who frequently used that type of equipment for physics labs.
The University of Alabama does have a pretty campus, and they're known for giving out generous merit aid. However, I don't know much about them. In the end, it was a good day and a fun trip. I missed a Tuesday, which is four classes, but I don't mind that much.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Equestrian Trip, Part I

This weekend, the Venture Crew took a trip to Alabama. Our goal: work on the requirements to earn the Equestrian Elective for Ranger/Bronze. We had a successful trip.
When we arrived, we learned about feeding the twenty horses. After lunch, we groomed several of the horses, and saddled five of them. After some time in the round pen, we were all able to go on a trail ride.
Many horse rides only allow you to walk on the horses. We did a lot more than that - we were galloping up hills. It was amazing. Afterwards, we learned about cooling down the horses, watering, unsaddling, grooming, and feeding.
The next day, we worked on tack care. Overall, we completed all the requirements for the elective except the presentation requirement. Our plan is to return for a short trip in March, so newer members can meet the same requirements we did, while we present to them and finish our elective. I'm looking forward to it.
Once I meet the presentation requirement  I'll have this elective complete. I also have a Lifesaver elective that I can complete once I do a presentation. I've completed five out of eight Ranger core requirements, so when I finish those two things, I should have earned my Outdoor Bronze Award, and be well on my way to Ranger. Any advancement we do must be complete by December, because the system is being redesigned nationally, and we don't know yet what the new system will be like.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Traveling Science Carnival

Last Thursday, I participated in MSMS's Traveling Science Carnival. We went to Bettye Mae Jack Middle School in Morton, Mississippi.
I worked the Color presentation for Physics. First, we used diffraction glasses to teach the children about breaking white light into the entire spectrum of light. The kids got to keep the glasses, so they loved that. Then, we used tops to demonstrate the mixing of colors. Finally, we did a retinal fatigue exercise.
Our audiences were groups of second, third, and fifth graders. We've never done the presentations for children as old as fifth graders before, so it was a different experience. Some of the children asked really good questions - one boy asked about how different colors were made.
Overall, the day was absolutely exhausting. I could hardly speak by the end of it.
The school plans to continue the program annually, visiting a different school each time. Personally, I think it's a really cool way to reach out to other schools, and to teach kids about science.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Mississippi College Math and Science Tournament

January and February always seem to be busy months for academic competitions and extracurriculars. Thursday was the Mississippi College Mathematics and Science Tournament. The competition is actually two days: Thursday and Friday, but we chose to attend on Thursday. Eleven seniors and juniors from MSMS competed.
The morning portion of the competition consists of two written tests, in some combination of Math, Biology, Chemistry, and Physics (each student chooses which tests they would like to take). I took Math and Biology. Math was 40 questions in 45 minutes. It was all material I had learned before, but I was a lot weaker in geometry than I should have been. I last took geometry in the ninth grade, and although the problems were familiar, I had forgotten some of the theorems and postulates that would have been good to know. After a short break, the Biology test was 100 questions in 45 minutes. I thought this would be a struggle to finish in time, but I actually finished with more extra time than I had for the Math test. The questions were very straightforward.
After lunch, there was the Quiz Bowl style competition. Although it is called a "Quiz Bowl" competition, it is actually quite different from anything else I have ever done. I played on the team, along with three of my cohorts. Many teams would play at once, and the games were 40 questions long. Questions were math and science focused, and displayed on a projector screen. Captains had to raise their hand, with their answer written on a folded piece of paper in their hand. Checkers for each team verified if answers were correct, and spotters watched which teams raised their hands first. Points were received for first, second, and third fastest correct answers.
After this, there was the awards ceremony. Disappointingly, the computer system had issues, and individual placements were not announced. For the school wide competition, we do not compete, because MSMS students represent schools from all over the state. However, we did win 2nd place in the Quiz Bowl portion of the competition: Oxford took 1st place, and we beat Jackson Prep for 3rd place. We later looked up our placement for the individual scores. MSMS had four scores in the top 1%, one in the top 3%, and several in the top 10% and top 20%.
It made me miss my quiz bowl team - it was like something I would have done with them. I had thought I would get to see them there, but my home school chose to attend the competition on Friday instead, so that didn't happen, which was a bit disappointing. However, I enjoyed the competition, and the day off of school.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Science Bowl, Part II

We played our own A team. And we won. We weren't expecting it. We didn't really want it - we had enjoyed proving ourselves against them at practice, but knocking them out of the competition was not something we wanted or expected. We were all very upset after that game, but we had to move on to the next round.
We played Oxford for this game. We knew that after we had beaten our own A team, we had to win the rest of the competition. It was the least that we could do. We didn't. The match was very close. 36-26, in Oxford's favor. Ten points difference - less than one tossup and bonus between us. There were a thousand different ways the match could have gone in our favor - any one of us slightly faster on a question, or a lucky guess, or whether Oxford got the bonus correct on the final question - the match hung on the edge, and I suppose we were just on the wrong side of that edge.
After that match, Oxford beat Walnut for the first place. So technically, we took third/fourth place (more like third in my book). One of our A team players and one of our B team players placed for most individual points scored. Perhaps things would have been very different if we had drawn a different bracket. This was the second time in twenty-six years that MSMS did not send a team to the national competition.
We will come back next year, and next year we will be smarter, faster, and better. We have a score to settle, and I know that I will do everything I can to fix that.

Science Bowl, Part I

One of the advantages of going to Mississippi's math and science high school is that there are a lot more extracurricular activities available than what was previously available to me. One of these is science bowl.
I remember when I first came to the interest meeting for science bowl, and even the first several practices. The room was always crowded. I was even quieter than normal during those first few uncomfortable weeks of school. Some of those days, I hardly had a chance to sit down at a buzzer, much less get a question correct. The questions were far harder than anything I had ever tried before - they were much more complex than the science questions asked in quiz bowl.
I was discouraged, and weekly sessions of losing had me ready to quit. I decided to at least stay until I was cut from the team. If nothing else, it was practice for quiz bowl. I was used to quiz bowl practice four days a week, and just once weekly still seems like very little to me.
I really liked the way that science bowl was run. The sponsor kept track of points - who was scoring, and in what subject areas. As the year progressed, players were cut, until the final teams were chosen. A similar program for a quiz bowl team could clear up a lot of confusion that I know was present in my previous team about who was playing for competitions, why, and if feelings would be hurt. With the team run this way, I couldn't hurt anything by coming to practice while practices were open.
I was surprised when I made the first cut. Twenty-one players were kept and sorted into four teams. I've always had a very poor sense of how well I am doing at something as stressful as a competition of this sort without being able to see any numbers or scores. I've frequently played quiz bowl competitions where scores are not visible, and I am under the impression that we are losing, while we have actually beaten the opposing team by a wide margin.
I was captain for my team of five. We only played three games - one against each of the other teams. We lost the first two games, and finally won the last one. After that, I was certain that I would not be making it any farther. However, when the players were cut again, I had made the B team as co-captain. I would be playing at regionals.
Practices were soul-crushing. The A team won, every time, frequently quadrupling our score. (I wonder if that's why they were the A team.) As the regional competition loomed, we increased practices to twice a week, and then daily during the week leading up to competition. We beat the A team a mere two out of the many matches we played against each other.
The competition finally approached. Matches did not begin until 12:30, and this left far too much time for thought. I could not pay attention during my classes that morning. The whole team was stressed - especially before matches and during the frequent breaks. During the qualifying rounds, both of our teams won all three matches and progressed to the single elimination bracket.
Next, we had to draw letters for our places in the bracket. The A team captain drew first: E. I drew later: F. We were playing our own team. Only one of us would make it past the next round - we knew it would be the A team, and that then they would win the rest of the competition. We had joked all day about what would happen if we played each other. We had laughed because we hoped it wouldn't happen - or at least not until the finals.