High school students vie for college scholarships, bragging rights in ocean science competition

2 February 2006

Contact: Phyllis Shoemaker, Coordinator, Alaska National Ocean Sciences Bowl, UAF School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, Seward Marine Center, 907-224-4312, fnpas1@uaf.edu
NR: SG-2006/NR227

Seward, Alaska—Teams of high school students from across the state will try to unseat reigning champion Juneau-Douglas High School when they gather here Feb. 10–12 for the annual Alaska Region National Ocean Sciences Bowl (NOSB).

The three-day event tests students' knowledge of marine science concepts in challenges that include oral presentations of research projects and a rapid-fire, Jeopardy-style quiz. The overall winning team will compete in the NOSB national finals in Pacific Grove, California, May 13–15, 2006.

Eleven teams from nine Alaska high schools—from Angoon in Southeast to Unalaska near the end of the Aleutian Island chain—will make the annual pilgrimage to Seward for the event, now in its ninth year.

Juneau-Douglas High School teams led by science teacher Clay Good have established a kind of dynasty, winning the overall Alaska competition each of the last three years, and six times since the competition began in 1998. It's a streak Soldotna's Skyview High School came close to ending in 2005, when it lost to Juneau by a mere two-tenths of a point.

"It was a disappointing loss last year, to have come so close," said Skyview teacher Mark Larson. "But realistically, we have a new team this year so anything can happen. I'm looking forward to it. It's always a fun time to get together and see how the other kids attack the problems."

Juneau-Douglas also is keeping an eye on the team from Cordova.

"I'm looking very closely at the Cordova team," said Good. "They have four people coming back for their third year, so I think they'll be impressive."

More than 50 students are expected to participate in the science bowl, which will award one-year University of Alaska tuition waivers to the top finishers, among other prizes. Teams from high schools in Angoon, Copper Center, Cordova, Seward, Soldotna, Unalaska, Wasilla, and of course Juneau have announced their participation in the competition.

The two teams entered by Juneau-Douglas High School are largely new to the competition. "All but one of my ten students are just building their knowledge base, but they are sharp kids," said Good. "They have good scientific minds and they want to excel. It's going to be very exciting."

Another team hoping to do well is newcomer Twindly Bridge Charter School, a home school program based in Wasilla. Teacher Heather Pelletier hopes the team will make a good showing and gain valuable experience.

"My main goal this year is to give the students experience in public speaking, and to give them a feel for the competition so they'll want to come back next year as serious competitors," said Pelletier.

Teams this year face two challenges. The first is to research and write a plan for implementing an ecosystem-based approach to management of a local marine resource. Teams must describe the ecosystem and their target species' roles in it, and then develop a multispecies management plan that includes research needed to manage the ecosystem. At the competition, teams will present their findings to a panel of scientists, who will rank the presentations on thoroughness, balance, clarity and a host of other criteria. The project report and presentation account for 50 percent of the overall score.

Some teams also will participate in a rapid-fire question-answer quiz on their knowledge of ocean science concepts. The quiz is organized as a series of round-robin matches. In each match, two teams compete against each other and the clock, trying to be the fastest to answer the toss-up questions. The quiz accounts for the other 50 percent of the overall score. The team with the most combined points wins the overall event, and will travel to the national finals.

While the knowledge quiz is sure to stir competitive feelings among the players, the event is about much more than who comes out on top, said coordinator Phyllis Shoemaker.

"This is such a great way for students to learn about the ocean, and to learn how to work together toward common goals," said Shoemaker. "These students also benefit from the opportunity to meet their peers from schools across the state."

The National Ocean Sciences Bowl began in 1998 as a way to bring ocean science education to the nation's high schools and to encourage high school graduates to pursue careers in science. This year, approximately 2,000 students from 375 high schools nationwide will take part in regional competitions.

In conjunction with the ocean sciences bowl, high-school students also have the opportunity to participate in an optional juried art show. Entry categories include two-dimensional paintings, drawings and photography; three-dimensional sculpture, pottery, and jewelry; and mixed media such as fiber arts and collages.

Major support for the Alaska Region National Ocean Sciences Bowl comes from the Consortium for Oceanographic Research & Education, based in Washington, D.C., and the North Pacific Research Board. Additional support comes from the University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, the Alaska Sea Grant College Program, and NOAA Fisheries, Alaska Region.

The Alaska Sea Grant College Program is a marine research, education and outreach service headquartered at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences. Alaska Sea Grant is funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in partnership with the State of Alaska and private industry.