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JDHS science champs head to national contest

Team took state with winning research paper and surviving barrage of questions

Posted: Monday, February 21, 2000

Now they know what it's like to be a salmon getting through a sea of predators.

A team of Juneau-Douglas High School students recently survived a day of nerve-wracking questions about oceanography and will represent Alaska in the National Ocean Sciences Bowl.

Juneau's high school has placed second once and first twice in the competition's three years of existence. This year's event was Feb. 12-13 at the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward. It drew nine high school teams, including two from Juneau.

``It's kind of like a game show,'' said JDHS senior Margie Housley.

``It's `Jeopardy' without money,'' added senior Josh Passer.

Actually, there were rewards for the winning JDHS Tsunami team, which also included seniors Colleen Dilts and Sommers Cole and junior Wesley Brooks.

They each won a one-year tuition waiver from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. And JDHS oceanography teacher Clay Good will get $300 for his classroom.

Unlike other regional competitions in the ocean sciences bowl, Alaska asks students to prepare a written research project and defend it in an oral presentation.

``A panel of scientists tries to make you look stupid,'' Cole said.

The topic this year was local fisheries. Students don't have time for original research. But they examined scientific reports and government data, interviewed local scientists and attended an anadromous fish conference in Juneau.

``It's really meant to be meta-analysis of other research,'' Good said.

The Tsunami team, in reporting on Southeast salmon populations, looked at hatcheries, the effects of climate changes on salmon's food sources, and habitat destruction near streams.

It gave students a taste of writing scientific literature, which Good described as saying as much as possible in the least amount of words.

``You have to be much more careful about how you phrase words,'' Dilts said. ``You can't just write what comes to mind.''

The Tsunami team placed fifth for its written report, but was first on the oral presentation. The students had to place first in the day-long Quiz Bowl to win the competition overall.

Most of the team members had taken Good's oceanography class last year, but they boned up by studying practice quizzes. The real questions ranged over biology, chemistry and physics, and included the history of technology and even what kind of whale Moby Dick was. Answer: A sperm whale, which the Tsunami team knew.

Students need a general science background to do well, Cole said.

``You also have to have a mental swagger,'' Brooks said.

Buzzer-bearing students compete in a round-robin against all the other teams, and then the final four have a double-elimination playoff.

Students might psych out the opposing team by delaying on the buzzer, so the other team would pause to wonder if the answer was as simple as it seemed. That's when the first students would hit the buzzer.

The students were glad to be going to Washington, D.C., for the national competition in mid-April. But they had bittersweet feelings too, because they beat out second-place White Mountain, a tiny school in a village of 200 people near Nome.

``It just would have been really neat to send them to Washington, D.C.,'' Housley said.

Also competing for JDHS at the competition in Seward was the fifth-place Poseidon team, composed of Angie Fowler, Jin Oak Ottoson-McKeen, Sam Fox, Breanne Rohm and Jenny Lund.

The event included an art competition as well. Amy Fosket of Juneau won second place for her print of a sea otter, and Ira Schaffer garnered an honorable mention for a Japanese-style painting.



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