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Southside High School tops in state science competition

story by Ryan Saylor
rsaylor@thecitywire.com

Students from Fort Smith's Southside High School will be representing the state of Arkansas in April when they compete in the National Science Bowl, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, in Washington, D.C.

According to Coach Josh Adams, the competition is designed to highlight student's abilities in two core subjects.

"It's a national competition through the department of energy letting students show knowledge of math and science," Adams said.

Adams said the competition first started in 2002 as a competition against eight other schools at Arkansas Tech University in Russellville.

In 2004, the competition moved to the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith, where Southside bested 12 other teams from across the state this year to claim their seventh state title and advance to nationals.

Members of the winning team are Captain Rachel Davis, Thy Dai, Landon Hunter, Sami Sexton and Dylan Wright. They will be provided with an all-expenses paid trip to Washington, D.C., to compete at the National Science Bowl from April 25-29.

Southside also fielded a second team that came in fourth place in the state competition.

DIFFERENT COMPETITION
While the competition is very similar to what many students may have experienced as part a Quiz Bowl team, Adams explained that the Science Bowl is divided into two different 8-minute halves, consisting of a total of 25 toss-up questions, along with bonus questions.

Even with that many questions, Adams said it is not always enough to fill the time.

"You can run out of questions, but that usually happens at nationals," Adams said, explaining that state competitions do not often run into the same problem.

To prepare for competition, senior Rachel Davis, who serves as the team captain, said Adams would have the team run through an actual timed event.

She said the mock-Science Bowls helped her develop in her role as a captain prior to seeing real competition.

"We all make sure that we know the rules and we practice just like we do in games," Davis said.

One of the toughest rules for team members is having to answer questions during an allotted time period, Davis explained.

"We only get 5 seconds for a toss-up and 20 seconds for a bonus question."

Adams said only having 5 seconds for a toss-up was not a challenge unless it was a math question.

"There's just no way to answer a math question in five seconds," he said with a laugh.

Even if a complex math question cannot be answered in 5 seconds, students are still able to show off what they have learned in a variety of classes.

VALIDATES CLASSROOM WORK
Seeing the students recall knowledge from classes, such as Advanced Placement Biology or Chemistry, even if they have not had the class in a semester or longer provides a sense of accomplishment not only for the students, but also for their teachers, Adams said.

"It just validates what they're doing in the classroom," he explained. "It's always good to see them learning that knowledge and then using it in a situation."

Students are also able to draw from their vast knowledge of math and science not only to answer questions, but to also challenge answers if they believe the answers are incorrect or inaccurate in some way.

But unlike Quiz Bowl, where coaches may challenge questions and use materials, such as encyclopedias and text books, brought to the competition to do so, the Science Bowl requires team participants to make challenges using nothing but their brains, Adams explained.

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"Challenges are then called into a room, where professors and others research and determine if the challenge is valid," Adams said. "For the kids, it is validation that they know stuff and it is correct."

The students who made up the winning Southside team have received praise for their achievements from home and from Washington, as well.

In a press release, Energy Department Secretary Steven Chu congratulated the team for "their achievements in science, technology, engineering and math."

U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, also sent congratulations and added, "I am very proud of Southside's students for their achievements and hard work and wish them the best of luck at the National Science Bowl."

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