As snow fell throughout much of Chicago on Jan. 28, the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory kicked off its annual Illinois Regional Middle School Science Bowl, part of the larger national competition. Fortunately, Argonne hosted the event virtually using Zoom, ensuring that teams could participate despite the wintry weather.
This year, Argonne added a little surprise to the competition: Now teams would view and face each other virtually, as part of the first regional Science Bowl to feature head-to-head competition — virtual buzzer and all.
Before Argonne moved the Science Bowl to a virtual format, the on-site competition had always been head-to-head. Teams would race to buzz in first and answer questions on science, technology, engineering and mathematics topics. When Argonne switched to virtual a few years ago, each team would answer questions in a separate room on Zoom, without any contact with other teams. Now, however, a new virtual buzzer system enables teams to face off against each other, bringing back the event’s competitive spirit.
“Competing head-to-head is awesome. The energy, enthusiasm, adrenaline and excitement can’t be matched without seeing the other students.” — Robin Dombeck, Maple School coach
“Competing head-to-head is awesome,” said Robin Dombeck, coach for Maple School in Northbrook. “The energy, enthusiasm, adrenaline and excitement can’t be matched without seeing the other students.”
Aside from some occasional, minor technical issues, the new virtual buzzer system proved effective. Teachers felt that the new set up was a great improvement.
“It was fun to see the faces of the team you were competing against. And I like how we wished each other good luck. You kind of felt like you were almost in person,” said Amy Truemper, coach for Bednarcik Junior High School in Aurora. “I definitely preferred this virtual head-to-head compared to just sitting in a Zoom meeting.”
Students enjoyed being able to see and interact with other teams virtually.
“The most exciting part of the Science Bowl was the competition itself, because we could interact with other teams and the whole Science Bowl community,” said Ajdina Osmankic, a student at the Islamic Foundation School in Villa Park. “And it was very intense. I liked it. It was a nice new experience, especially with the virtual buzzer.”
Brandon Pope, who coordinates Argonne’s STEM Education Outreach efforts, is happy about the successful implementation of the virtual buzzer and face-to-face competition this year. He believes that the event’s virtual set up, combined with the head-to-head format, will encourage more schools to participate in the competition.
“Virtual competitions have proved to be useful in extending our outreach to schools and communities that would otherwise be too far away to compete, especially in the middle of winter,” Pope said. “Yet we want to maintain a sense of competitiveness and connection between the different teams that came with in-person activities, so they can really feel engaged in the challenge. With the new virtual buzzer, we can capture the best of both worlds, and we’re proud to be at the forefront of these improvements.”
The nine teams competing in the 2023 DOE Illinois Regional Middle School Science Bowl included:
- Daniel Wright Junior High School - Lincolnshire (two teams, 1st/2nd place)
- Jerling Junior High School - Orland Park (3rd place)
- Maple School - Northbrook (two teams)
- Old Quarry Middle School - Lemont
- Islamic Foundation School - Villa Park (two teams)
- Bednarcik Junior High School - Aurora
This work was supported in part by DOE, Office of Science, Office of Workforce Development for Teachers and Scientists.
Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation’s first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America’s scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.
The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit https://energy.gov/science.