Science Olympiad brings students together to teach team building, helping others

FORD CITY — “Science is faith and life” for Danielle Kephart, intermediate grade science teacher at The Divine Redeemer School.

It is also a way to teach team-building and helping others, which is the emphasis of the school’s Science Olympiad.

Kephart, who is in her 11th year at the school, says she loves teaching science not only because it is the study of God’s creation, but also because it is interactive and hands-on.

“Everything around us is made by God,” she said. “Students embrace this using their God-given talents.”

While Kephart teaches science for grades 3-6, the Science Olympiad incorporates the entire school with nine different teams of students from the same grade and mixed-grade teams.

Preparation begins during Catholic Schools Week and culminates with a weeklong series of challenges in May that incorporates all academic disciplines. Students design banners and segments are based on games such as Pictionary and Jeopardy.

“It serves as a cumulative review of the year,” she said, and includes math, English and writing, along with STEM projects such as building airplanes, roller coasters and rubber-band cars.

This year, the school has added a cross-curricular STEM design challenge using K’NEX, a toy building system that includes gears, wheels and other components that are pieced together to make machines, models and other structures.

Students have been tasked with building a crane that can lift an object and set it back down. They have to develop a blueprint for the motor, keep a journal about the project and track the overall cost based on prices of the K’NEX pieces, Kephart said.

The best projects will be presented at a local challenge sponsored by the ARIN Intermediate Unit, and that winner will advance to a state competition in Harrisburg.

Kephart is collaborating on the new project with Jane Hulings, who teaches fourth grade and English, and Melissa Sheaffer, who teaches third grade and mathematics.

Kephart said most schools use the competition in their gifted student programs, but Divine Redeemer opens it to all students.

She said Divine Redeemer students work on many cross-curricular projects, especially in upper grades at Divine Redeemer, including ones focusing on Thanksgiving, Christmas around the world and wildlife.

For an Iditarod project, students build a dog sled in the STEM lab, research what has to be loaded on the sled, weigh and measure those items, and then test the sled. They also watch the Iditarod, tracking the real-life participants through a webcam.

“Collaboration and teamwork are big parts of what we do,” Kephart said. “That is important when they go out in the world because they must have an appreciation of other’s opinions.”

— Jerry Zufelt

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