Paula Teichholtz teaches about acids and bases with her goggled team, Ian, Aya, Berek and Emeline, prior to the competition. Image credit: Kira Berman.

Coaching an event called Potions may sound straight out of a Harry Potter novel, but this was actually one of the activities at the 2015 Washtenaw Elementary Science Olympiad.

Anat Belasen and Paula Teichholtz, University of Michigan graduate students in ecology and evolutionary biology, coached the Ypsilanti Community School’s team. They volunteered with fourth- and fifth-graders for two events: Disease Detectives, on public health and epidemiology, and Potions, with a chemistry focus.

“Probably the students’ favorite activity in Potions was making “slime” polymers out of glue and Borax,” said Teichholtz.

“The best part about working with the students was getting them to realize that they’re smarter than they think they are!” said Belasen. “Some of them struggle with confidence issues and get upset when they don’t know something. Working with them over the weeks was really rewarding as we got to watch their confidence grow.”

She found the extent of their learning incredibly impressive. They interpreted epidemic curves, discussed relatively advanced epidemiological concepts, made Bohr models,* (which she said she didn’t even remember how to do), learned the pH scale, and more. “It’s really amazing!”

Kira Berman, assistant director for education at the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History, has made it possible for the Ypsilanti Public Schools to sponsor a team by recruiting U-M coaches for the past couple years. Her husband, Dr. Sean Stidd, was the Ypsilanti head coach, and Berman supervised the Disease Detectives event. Stidd teaches philosophy at Wayne State University.

“We finished in a big tie for 14th out of 38 schools for number of fifth grade medals received,” said Stidd. Other schools that won three fifth-grade medals were the following elementary schools from Ann Arbor: Allen, Burns Park, Thurston, and St. Francis of Assisi; and Saline schools.

He calls the event “the largest elementary school Science Olympiad in the world, right here in Washtenaw County.” The Ypsilanti team was represented by the Estabrook School and the Washtenaw International Middle Academy team.

Over 3,000 people participated in the Science Olympiad, May 30, 2015 at Ann Arbor’s Pioneer High School. 


*In atomic physics, the Rutherford-Bohr model or Bohr model, shows an atom as a small, positively charged nucleus surrounded by electrons that travel in circular orbits around the nucleus similar to the solar system, but rather than gravity, attraction is from electrostatic forces. (source: Wikipedia)

Caption for image within text above: Miriam Stidd and Kyla Alexander, students at Washtenaw International Middle Academy, cheer their 4th place win in May the Force Be With You, a physics event. Image credit: Kira Berman.

The Ypsilanti Community Schools team from Estabrook School and Washtenaw International Middle Academy. Back row: (left to right) starting right of center with Kira Berman in maroon shirt, EEB grad student coaches Anat Belasen and Paula Teichholtz. Sean Stidd, team head coach in front of them, leaning back, and all the wonderful students. Image credit: Karla Graessley, Estabrook School principal.