Try answering the following question in less than five seconds: Jeff walks west in a straight path for 100 meters and then east in a straight path for 150 meters. What is the magnitude of his displacement, in meters? Can’t do it? Well, Science Bowl teams from Tokay High School, Elkhorn Elementary School and Lodi Middle School can quickly tell you that the answer is 50.
Tokay High’s team is once again headed to the high school regional competition in Modesto on Saturday to compete for an all-expenses-paid ticket to nationals in Washington, D.C. Elkhorn Elementary and Lodi Middle students will be competing for the first time at Las Positas College in Livermore on Saturday.
Student teams in each division from 14 schools will be testing their knowledge in topics such as math, chemistry, earth science, physics, biology and astronomy.
“Whenever I tell friends and relatives what we practice, they’re amazed at the depth and breadth of what we study,” said Tokay High team captain Andrew Moton, a junior.
National Science Bowl is a game show-like competition which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy.
During each round, teams of four students must answer questions within five seconds. If they get the question right, they get to answer a bonus question for more points.
Tokay High School has been a long-time competitor at both regionals and nationals.
According to coach Susan Heberle, in the nine years she’s been coaching, Tokay’s Science Bowl team has made it to regionals nine times and to nationals seven times.
Heberle is a former science teacher who first got involved in Science Bowl after her daughter joined a team. This year, she is coaching the teams at Elkhorn and Lodi Middle in addition to Tokay.
“When you go to practice, the kids don’t want to leave,” she said. “Some children love that kind of competitive sport.”
To prepare for competition, the Science Bowl teams spend most of their time doing self-study in the various math and science subjects, and meet for practice every Sunday for three hours.
Students have access to a buzzer setup — obtained with contributions from both the high school science program and the Heberles — to practice answering questions at the pace of a real competition.
During other practices, they answer fill-in-the-blank questions and watch science videos, all to ensure they are quick-thinking experts in competition.
“A lot of it comes down to intuition, trusting our knowledge and making an educated guess,” Moton said.
Outside of Science Bowl practice, Moton and his high school teammates take Advanced Placement science classes, starting in a rigorous track from AP Biology onward. Most of the students have plans to continue in the sciences in college.
Heberle hopes she can get students interested in science earlier with the new middle school teams. She believes that the competition will teach them valuable life skills in perseverance.
Her students appreciate her passion for the program.
“I do want to emphasize that Ms. Heberle is a wonderful coach. She can be like a little kid who enjoys the discoveries of science every time she shows us something new from the Web,” Moton said. “She’s a driving force behind our organization.”