Focus on STEM Education
Passing Torch to Budding Scientists
Interest in STEM Education Takes Flight at Science Olympiad
Ever built your own aquifer? Or launched a bottle rocket or homemade helicopter? Middle school and high school students from across Iowa met in Cedar Rapids to tackle those challenges and prove their scientific prowess last month at Coe College.
The Science Olympiad state tournament is like an academic track meet. It’s a chance for budding scientists to compete in hands-on solo and group activities to earn a spot at the national competition.
Leslie Flynn has been involved with Science Olympiad for 18 years as a coach, state supervisor, state board member and national event judge and supervisor. This year, the Science Education clinical instructor is State co-director and is active in getting more Hawkeyes involved in the tournament. This was the first year the UI is sharing responsibility for the event with Coe College.
“My goal is to substantially increase Iowa’s participation in this premiere national science competition,” she said. “Science Olympiad is a high impact, low cost means to engage a large number of students in science technology engineering and mathematics (STEM) study.”
Flynn assembled 17 UI faculty and students to serve as coaches, mentors, and state event supervisors. College of Education student volunteers have logged more than 50 hours of their time preparing for the tournament by developing events, mentoring teams, creating training manuals, and more. When these future educators graduate, they may become the new cohort of state coaches in their professional placements.
Dr. Brian Lindsay, a pulmonology fellow at the UI, was on Flynn’s Science Olympiad team when she taught high school in 2000 and is now an event state coordinator. He said he was floored by the level of enthusiasm and organization these future teachers brought to the competition.
“The future of science education in Iowa is in good hands,” he said.
The purpose of Science Olympiad is to improve the quality of K-12 STEM education, to increase students’ interest in STEM fields, to recognize outstanding achievements in STEM by students and teachers, and to provide an avenue for K-12 students to explore and excel in STEM.
Flynn said one unique aspect of the program is that teams are mainly female. “This is a group traditionally under represented in STEM fields,” she said.
Lindsay said Flynn has been a true inspiration not just for him, but for countless others since he met her a dozen years ago.
“Leslie’s selfless dedication to helping others reach their full potential is unmatched,” he said. “Her love of education and the effort she puts forward provide unparalleled inspiration and opportunity to students of all ages.”
Laura Wood (BA ’09), a Science Education MAT student who ran the bottle rocket event, hopes to teach science in Iowa.
“As a future science educator, I see how vital experiences like this are for the students. The Science Olympiad serves as a hook to get kids interested in the STEM fields as well as promoting team work and school community,” she said.
Wood said Flynn opened her mind to what science is and should be.
“Leslie is inspiring a future brand of science teacher—a brand of teacher that emphasizes the importance of science literacy for all students,” she said. “What I take away from her classes is so useful and will make me a better science educator.”