Important lessons in time management and hard work were lost on me at the 2006 Middle School Science Olympiads. I was an ambivalent eighth grader who’d joined the team less for glory and more to join my friends, which I was apparently and fortunately qualified to do. Each weekly meeting consisted of a short learning session, whose lessons I no longer remember, and, more importantly, preparation for the Science Olympiads competition. The annual contest was a gathering of bright young adolescents; students willing to give up multiple Thursday afternoons and one precious Saturday to compete against their peers and win the adoration of dozens.
There were different events, and each member chose what they thought would best suit their abilities. Rather than test my mettle individually, I picked the partner-based contests in which I’d be able to work with my much more determined classmate, A. I thought this was the wiser move because it’d disperse any pressure that would otherwise be pinpointed on me but I failed to consider that A was a star pupil and the coach had stellar expectations for him and anyone caught in his orbit. Making the discovery too late, I found myself locked in two events: bridge building and the equally unimaginatively named, “Write it, do it!”.
Bridge building was a fairly straightforward test of structural engineering. With a predetermined kit of sticks and glue, participants were given two months to design and build a bridge that could sustain the most weight. My role was to do whatever A told me, be it cutting sticks to a certain length or gluing them together at particular angles. There was limited creative input, largely because I didn’t have much faith in my own architectural ability and because A and the coach seemed like they knew what they were doing.
The rules of “Write it, do it!” were as follows: on the day of the competition participants would be split apart, one member would be brought into a room and provided a pre-built model. The participant would then have 15 minutes to write down the steps to recreate the model without being able to touch or take apart the structure. After the time was up, the partners waiting outside the room would be brought back and provided a package of dismantled pieces. Using the written directions they would then build a model, hoping to recreate the original that their partners had seen. This event seemed to be outside the realm of A and the coach. Neither seemed to think that much preparation was necessary, and I myself actually had enough faith in my writing ability to agree with them. As such, the three of us relegated the competition to the back-burner and spent most of our preparation working on the next Golden Gate.
On the day of the Science Olympiads, we split into our various groups. The bridge building event was one of the most popular and students would submit their architectural marvels to be tested throughout the day. While A and I waited for the bridge’s judgment we made our way towards the “Write it, do it!” event.
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25th place (of 65)
Preparation time: 2 months, including hours of lessons and manual labor.
Write-it, do it!
9th place (of 50)
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Added note: At the end of the 15 minutes, I wrote “Sorry A, I have run out of time, good luck!”. I was immediately lambasted afterwards for having not used that additional time to provide more directions.