Finding chemistry through competition

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A group of MFL MarMac juniors put their chemistry skills to the test during a recent competition at Loras College in Dubuque. Participants included (front, left to right) RoseMary McGeough, Megan Lang, Rachel Davis; (back) Beau Benzing, Eli Johnson, Cedrick Drahn, Taylor Berns, Destiny Berns, Kayleigh White and Max Koeller. One of the school’s two teams placed third in the Chemistry Olympics, and Koeller, Johnson and Benzing placed in two individual events. (Submitted photo)

“It was not only educational,” said Koeller of the Chemistry Olympics experience, “but it taught us that there’s more to a lot of fields in science.” (Submitted photo)

Megan Lang competes in a lab that was one of five different events at the Chemistry Olympics at Loras College. Students were each assigned a lab to compete in and focused on practicing the labs beforehand, working on proper technique to get the best results. (Submitted photo)

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

A group of MFL MarMac juniors put their chemistry skills to the test during a recent competition at Loras College in Dubuque. It was admittedly a bit of an experiment for the students—the school had never before participated in the event.

“I just love any chance for my students to compete in science,” said teacher Cheryl Drowns, who was familiar with Chemistry Olympics through her former position at Beckman High School. “I think it’s a big motivator and pushes them to perform their best and problem solve.” 

The students were up to the challenge. One of MFL MarMac’s two teams—made up of Cedrick Drahn, Max Koeller, Eli Johnson, RoseMary McGeough and Beau Benzing—placed third, beating out other participants from around the region. Koeller, as well as the pair of Johnson and Benzing, also placed in two individual events.

Chemistry Olympics consisted of five total events. The first two were group competitions, completed with a team. 

“One of them was ‘Jeopardy!’ and one of them was a mix of games,” Koeller explained.

The next three events were labs performed by an individual or two people from the group. One lab asked participants to identify unknown elements, while the others focused on density drop and titration.

It was in the unknown elements lab that Koeller won a second-place award, and Johnson and Benzing took third in titration.

The students said it helped that they could prepare ahead of time.

“Students each were assigned a lab to compete in and focused primarily on practicing the labs, working on proper technique to get the best results,” Drowns said. “But we also did some review of concepts we learned throughout the year.”

“We also practiced the games,” Drahn noted, “because [Drowns] knew what they were going to be like.”

Koeller said the group was pleasantly surprised by how well they performed, especially going up against larger schools that offer AP Chemistry. 

The competition showed the students how much they’d learned this year, Drowns stated, and they practiced valuable lab skills and problem skills.

It was a fun way to both learn about and apply chemistry, added another participant, Rachel Davis.

“We want to go back next year and win,” she stressed.

“I never knew chemistry could be that fun,” said McGeough. “I liked being involved with my team and getting to learn new vocabulary, and making it more of a competition rather than just learning in a school setting.”

Johnson also liked competing against people from other schools.

“It was kind of an incentive,” he quipped. “It gives a bit more of a point than just doing it to learn.”

Chemistry Olympics also brought together a diverse group of students. 

“I think it was a unique experience because we all participate in sports and music, but we never compete in chemistry,” McGeough said. “It was something different we could all do together.”

An added bonus was that all students who placed in the competition received scholarships from Loras College that can be used should they choose to further their educations at the school.

Davis said she appreciated tours of the science building.

“They showed us some of the things they’re working on,” she explained.

One project, said Koeller, took a picture of an eyeball, to check the size of the pupil.

“They’re still in the early stages of it,” he shared, “but they want it to be a inexpensive way to see if someone has a tumor in their eye. So they have a lot of productive studies.”

This, paired with the competition itself, prompted the MFL MarMac juniors to think more about the science field and potential career opportunities.

“It was not only educational,” said Koeller, “but it taught us that there’s more to a lot of fields in science.”

“It expanded my view of the chemistry field,” McGeough agreed. “It wasn’t something I was looking into before, but now it’s an option.”

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