A Coginchaug Regional High School team is hard at work preparing for the national Ocean Sciences Bowl, which will be held this year in Seattle, Wash.
In nine years of competition, this is the first time Coginchaug has won the regional competition, the Quahog Bowl, and this will be the first time Coginchaug students have competed on the national level.
According to the NOSB, its mission is to enrich science teaching and learning across the United States through a high-profile national competition that increases high school students’ knowledge of the oceans and enhances public understanding and stewardship of the oceans.
Nationals will pay for the team’s trip to Seattle, so fundraising will not be needed. Team Captain Deanna Puchalski said this was welcome news. “We don’t need another thing on top of studying to worry about,” she said.
The questions at nationals will be at the collegiate — or even graduate — level, the team’s coach Lorrie Martin explained. The theme for this year’s national competition is ocean acidification.
The team is still taken aback by its big victory at the regional competition.
“It’s surreal,” team member Tyler Bjarnason said.
The Quahog Bowl was a day-long series of matches. The game’s questions includes toss-up multiple choice, which, if answered correctly, score the team the ability to answer a follow-up short answer question. There are also notoriously difficult challenge questions, where 20 points are possible, but a score of 10 is an excellent performance, and scoring even three or four points is respectable.
“You have to listen to the toss-ups very carefully and eliminate multiple choice answers as you go —you can’t just cross things out, like on a paper test,” Deanna said.
During the Quahog Bowl, “people were telling me, your team is on fire!” Coach Martin recalled.
“We were definitely the underdog in the competition,” Deanna said.
During the final match, Coginchaug came back at the eleventh hour, more than a dozen points behind, and took the victory.
“Our win wasn’t luck, it was skill,” team member Amelia Bianchi said.
Martin explained that the team spontaneously developed a winning strategy without her input. Each team member has certain specialties, and during the final match, the team played aggressively.
“I’m the best at biology questions, so I always listen to those extra carefully,” Amelia said.
Team captain Deanna said that Coginchaug’s more relaxed approach also helped them succeed. Some teams studied frantically in between rounds, but Coginchaug’s team relaxed and enjoyed themselves, which kept their minds fresh when it came time for a match.
During practice Feb. 20 ,he team was visited by director of Project Oceanology, Thaxter Tewksbury and Diana Payne, education coordinator for the Connecticut Sea Grant and former head of the National Marine Educator’s Association.
Twenty-five of the best teams in the country will compete in nationals. Payne said that the Coginchaug Team should be sure to take the competition seriously, but that they should also remember that they are from a very strong district for ocean sciences. The team deserves its place in the national competition, Payne said.
The questions as nationals are “very intense,” Payne said. At nationals, the team will face a new question type: the science expert briefing. “It’s new to them, but not new to nationals,” Payne said.
This question type is intended to model the experience of testifying before Congress. The team is issued a topic, and each team member represents a different stakeholder on that topic. The team writes briefs, and then each team member reads their brief before the judges.
The questions the team will face could be anything, Payne said. One year, Payne wrote a challenge question about knot tying. Competitors were given ropes, and had to tie various knots and explain their oceanography-related uses.
Beyond studying, the team has started thinking about strategy — from debates about which finger is fastest on the buzzer, to considerations about clock management. After successfully answering a toss-up question, the team can run out the time during the short answer segment to reduce the amount of time left in the match. This provides an advantage to teams who are ahead in points, as it reduces the amount of time the competitor has available to catch up.
“It’s a legitimate strategy, and you will definitely see it used,” Tewksbury said.
After asking for advice on where to find study materials, the team returned to its usual practice, with Tewksbury and Payne participating as judge and moderator.
Team member Ryan Gossart correctly answered why the inside of the earth is hot: this is due to radioactive isotopes decaying. The team continued the practice, laughing and joking.
“It’s important to remember to have fun,” Martin said.