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Lessons Learned in Science Olympiad: Write-It-Do-It

Science Olympiad –a competition where teams of high school students compete against one another in science related events– was a large part of my journey into becoming a scientist. I spent countless weekends throughout middle and high school working on the perfect Rube Goldberg machine, studying meteorology, and rehearsing for an event called “Write-It-Do-It”. 

As a young scientist, participating in the “Write-It-Do-It” event conveyed the importance of writing effective instructions to me at an early age. In this event, participants use precise communication skills to describe an object to a partner, who, without seeing the object, will then attempt to recreate it. 

Some examples of materials that can be combined to make a given object includes:

  1. Styrofoam Bowls and Plates: Styrofoam can be shaped and combined to form different components of the object.

  2. Beads: Small and colorful, beads can be used to add intricate details or serve as specific elements in the construction.

  3. Pipe Cleaners: Flexible and easy to manipulate, pipe cleaners are excellent for creating structured elements or connecting different parts of the object.

  4. Toothpicks: Ideal for building frames, toothpicks provide a sturdy structure for the object and can be easily attached to other materials.

  5. Paper Clips: These can be used for connecting various parts or serving as joints in the construction of the object.

This is a non-exhaustive list, and the event gets more complicated as coordinators continue combining these materials into a single object. As you can see, a combination of language skills, sequencing, spatial intelligence, and practice with a trusted partner are required to win this competition.

Here are some skills that I learned then and still use to this day:

Consistent Terminology

Consistency in language and terminology is crucial for effective communication. It ensures a shared understanding among individuals involved in a task or project.

Consistent Terminology In Science Olympiad: 

In 'Write It, Do It,' participants must employ consistent and clear language to convey instructions accurately. Participants must consistently refer to specific materials using clear and agreed-upon terms, like "styrofoam bowls" instead of generic terms like "containers". Some participants even utilize ordinal directions, designating a compass-like orientation to the object in order to familiarize their partner with where things are positioned in space.

Consistent Terminology In Science: 

Researchers use consistent terminology in publications, presentations, and collaborations. Clear language is essential for conveying complex ideas and ensuring accurate interpretation of scientific concepts. Researchers use standardized terminology when describing experimental procedures, such as specifying "deoxyribonucleic acid or DNA" instead of using vague terms like "genetic material" or notating ‘H2O’ in place of ‘water’. As always, language must be consistent throughout any given document to prevent confusion.

Sequential Directions

Sequencing instructions in a logical order is vital for organized and efficient task execution. It helps prevent confusion and ensures that steps are followed systematically.

Sequential Directions In Science Olympiad: 

Writers in 'Write It, Do It' provide step-by-step instructions, ensuring that builders follow a logical sequence, such as "attach the toothpicks first before adding beads". Some writers in this event begin by starting their object descriptions at ground level and work their way to the top.

Sequential Directions In Science: 

In a lab experiment, following a logical sequence might involve adding reagents in a specific order, ensuring rigorous and reproducible results. Failure to write an effective and clear sequence in scientific protocol leads to frustration when experimental results are unable to be replicated.

Adaptability of Protocols

The ability of protocols to adapt to diverse situations and challenges is crucial for their effectiveness. Protocols should remain flexible while maintaining a structured framework.

Adaptability of Protocols In Science Olympiad: 

Participants adapt their communication style in 'Write It, Do It' when encountering different materials, demonstrating flexibility in describing objects made from unconventional items. This is a process that requires practice before event day. Learn how you and your partner can best communicate between different types of materials to best anticipate different materials/types of construction.

Adaptability of Protocols In Science: 

Researchers may modify experimental protocols to account for variations in equipment or unexpected changes in environmental conditions. Knowing how to adapt a protocol properly requires knowledge of your materials and requires you to act without compromising scientific rigor. 

Science Olympiad's "Write-It-Do-It" isn't just about crafting objects from styrofoam and toothpicks; it's a crash course in scientific skills. The ability to communicate clearly, sequence steps logically, and adapt to unexpected challenges isn't just a competition strategy – it's a sneak peek into the essential toolkit of every successful scientist. I encourage you, as a reader, to seek out opportunities like the "Write-It-Do-It" event to flex your communication skills. The best scientists recognize that effective communication matters just as much as any discovery!


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