May 9, 2014

2014 Blue Lobster Champions from Lexington High School represent Mass at the 17th Annual National Ocean Sciences Bowl in Seattle, WA

Lexington, MA - May 9, 2014. By Sarah Damassa, Science Teacher, Lexington High School

The Lexington High School National Ocean Sciences team placed 8th overall and 6th in the science expert briefing competition at the 17th annual NOSB Finals. Twenty-two teams from across the country participated in the competition, and, without a doubt, one of the best aspects of the weekend is the chance to meet people from other states (including some that have no ocean!). The theme for the competition this year was ocean acidification (the "equally evil twin" of climate change, as described in Elizabeth Kolbert's latest book). Members of the competing team are: Caroline Berger, Mayukha Karnam and Sneha Rao, juniors; Roshan Padaki, sophomore, and Afareen Jaleel, freshman.

The weekend began with field trips to various locations in the Puget Sound area, where students had a chance to meet professional scientists, see laboratory facilities, collect data from a boat on Puget Sound, kayak on a nearby lake, examine marine invertebrates at low tide, etc. The opening ceremonies and group dinner were held at the Seattle Aquarium on Friday evening (we ate chicken or pasta, and had the entire place to ourselves, which was wonderful!).

On Saturday morning, the competition began in earnest with four round robin matches, followed by our team's science expert briefing. This exercise is a mock-congressional hearing in which students take on the roles of federal, state, academic, environmental and industrial scientists as they "testify" before a panel of three judges (the "congressional committee"). The students work hard in the weeks before competition to prepare their written briefing, which is based on an item of legislation not passed by last year's congress, and relevant to the theme of competition. At the briefing, they each read their abstracts and respond to questions from the judges. I sat in the back of the room as an observer; coaches are expected to take a "hands-off" approach throughout this activity, so this was the first time I had heard their presentations.

On Saturday afternoon, the double-elimination rounds began (Lexington was seeded 5th after the round robin matches). We won, lost, won and then lost a second time, to four different teams in the afternoon, ending our run at about 6:15 pm. The competition questions ranged from easy (What is the wind direction of the Trade Winds in the Northern Hemisphere?) to absurdly difficult (How many pirate attacks occurred in 2012 off the coast of Somalia?). There are toss-up/multiple choice, bonus/short answer, and team challenge questions in each match.

I was extremely proud to see how quickly the team bounced back. They are definitely resilient and are already making plans for next year. It was also really impressive to watch the students persevere despite the long hours of intense concentration needed to stay in the game. There is rarely any down time between matches as the team moves from one room to the next. Sunday's final rounds came down to six teams, and we watched the final matches from the audience, slightly disappointed to have been eliminated, but certainly more relaxed than the teams still competing.

It has been my joy and privilege to coach NOSB teams for eleven years. Thanks to the exceptional talents of our students, as well as to the generosity of MIT Sea Grant, NOSB and their supporting institutions and individuals, the Lexington teams have had the great good fortune to have made four successive trips to Nationals, followed by three award trips during the summers (enjoying oceanographic adventures in San Diego/Catalina Island in 2011, Beaufort, NC in 2012, Savannah, Georgia in 2013). For all of us, being part of NOSB has been a wonderful experience!

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Lexington High School's A Team at the top of the Space Needle in Seattle, WA.

Watch the 2014 Blue Lobster Bowl video!

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