Advice for First-Time Volunteers

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Advice for First-Time Volunteers

Post by RiverWalker88 » August 16th, 2020, 11:42 am

Hey Alum/Volunteers!

I’m compiling a Volunteer Handbook for our (currently unoffical) invitational to give to all volunteers so that they can get an idea of what Science Olympiad event supervision and volunteering entails. Most or all of our volunteers are likely to be first-time volunteers, and I believe that it is really important that volunteers have an idea of what a Science Olympiad tournament is so that they can confidently prepare events with minimal stress, and teams will have a number of really good (hopefully some of the best that they have seen) events.

I’ve been using a lot of the info on the soinc.org website (which I, of course, also include links to) and the alumni threads, as well as any related wiki pages, and some info I’ve found on tournament pages, but I figured that it would be helpful to include actual volunteer experience that would make event supervison (or volunteering in general) a little easier for first-time volunteers, and make events more effective and fun for participating teams.

On that note, I’ll pose the question: Do you have any advice that you think would be valuable to a first-time event supervisor or volunteer on the subject of exam or lab composition, event running, or otherwise being part of a Science Olympiad tournament?

Thanks in advance!
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Re: Advice for First-Time Volunteers

Post by Unome » August 16th, 2020, 1:26 pm

Hm... I've always had trouble talking about this in the general sense, but I'll see if I can find any of my old notes on this (though I might not have them since most people in event-related volunteering positions at the tournament I used to run were already familiar with SO).
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Re: Advice for First-Time Volunteers

Post by gz839918 » August 16th, 2020, 1:34 pm

One thing that still haunts me, that I really, really wish I had prepared for, is to never let other volunteers bully you into running things poorly.

I once had a volunteer insist on grading a question that I told him specifically to leave for me to grade. I've had a volunteer who yelled at me for saying significant figures were in the rules. I've had a volunteer who sneered at me "how do you know? It's not like you've run this event before." I've had a volunteer who hadn't read the rules before the tournament day, but insisted that his interpretation was correct.

Conversely, you should never bully other volunteers into running an event your way. I've made mistakes too, including times where I entirely forgot to ask a team to do their song score test, and a volunteer had to tell me I was wrong, and I had to ask the team to come back to the sounds of music room. This can grow into thorny issues of how to figure out who's right, and who's wrong. The first step is to always be polite, so that nobody should have to raise their voice, and while it should be obvious, I've had to stand firm towards other volunteers shouting at me. I try to avoid interrupting them, and then I make sure I explain myself calmly. "Calmly" doesn't mean I should concede any ground, but rather, to appeal to reason. (Sometimes there is no room to concede ground, like if a volunteer asks me to do the Volume Score Test, which was removed from the rules.) Depending on a decision's magnitude, like disagreeing with somebody on whether to tier a team, you may want to ask tournament staff to weigh in.

This is one of the more serious things on my mind, but I'll post more ideas whenever I can squeeze in some time to write them down.
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Re: Advice for First-Time Volunteers

Post by syo_astro » August 16th, 2020, 2:37 pm

Unome wrote:
August 16th, 2020, 1:26 pm
Hm... I've always had trouble talking about this in the general sense, but I'll see if I can find any of my old notes on this (though I might not have them since most people in event-related volunteering positions at the tournament I used to run were already familiar with SO).
Yes, that's a good point. I still think there's generic advice applicable to everyone, but people are more receptive to something more "personalized" (I guess this is the principle behind a lot of interactive learning and such). I believe there are also some resources by a few different groups (state directors, some university / alumni groups) that needed it for their first time volunteers, so you could contact some of them (or maybe some here could put you in contact - I indirectly know the UMSO group, could maybe ask them if you'd like, not sure what their intro to scioly looks like rn, though).

RiverWalker, could you give more info. on your group, is it for an invite, more for MY SO, year long? Are these university students or parents/adults?
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Re: Advice for First-Time Volunteers

Post by RiverWalker88 » August 16th, 2020, 3:33 pm

syo_astro wrote:
August 16th, 2020, 2:37 pm
Unome wrote:
August 16th, 2020, 1:26 pm
Hm... I've always had trouble talking about this in the general sense, but I'll see if I can find any of my old notes on this (though I might not have them since most people in event-related volunteering positions at the tournament I used to run were already familiar with SO).
Yes, that's a good point. I still think there's generic advice applicable to everyone, but people are more receptive to something more "personalized" (I guess this is the principle behind a lot of interactive learning and such). I believe there are also some resources by a few different groups (state directors, some university / alumni groups) that needed it for their first time volunteers, so you could contact some of them (or maybe some here could put you in contact - I indirectly know the UMSO group, could maybe ask them if you'd like, not sure what their intro to scioly looks like rn, though).

RiverWalker, could you give more info. on your group, is it for an invite, more for MY SO, year long? Are these university students or parents/adults?
This will be for an invite and It'll probably be a really varied group. I'm going to reach out to staff at Socorro High (who will likely have heard of Science Olympiad, at best), and see about interest in the way of volunteers from NMT, some of which might be previous supervisors from state, past Science Olympiad participants, or--probably most likely--students (or maybe faculty, we'll see) that haven't been involved in Science Olympiad before. If I can't find enough volunteers in a reasonable amount of time (or if students from out team show interest), I might ask some of our team to help run (or run, potentially, if necessary) some Div B events, so they'd know a lot about competing, but not about volunteering.

I've also been looking into what I could find on intro to scioly stuff, but knowing how other tournaments introduce volunteers would be helpful (Our state seems to be... slightly lacking in this department a majority of the time).

Other (maybe helpful) info: We'll be running Satellite or Mini (depending on state guidelines and team preference) with 24-30 B and 24-30 C teams. We will be running the awards ceremony the next day, so there should be much more time to score (granted, most people don't want to spend all night grading).

Hopefully that helps.

Probably should have written this in the original post... m'bad
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Re: Advice for First-Time Volunteers

Post by SilverBreeze » August 16th, 2020, 5:28 pm

Probably goes without saying, but make sure to communicate. Double, even triple-check things. It's unpleasant to end up on competition day and you thought they were going to bring the beakers and they thought you were going to bring the beakers.

For writing tests, it's not just difficulty that matters, but in what sense that questions are difficult. Trivia, off-topic questions, and tedious calculations just frustrate teams and insult the time they spent studying. Ideally, the test should be difficult because it makes competitors think critically and covers in-depth, but on-topic subjects. A bit of off-topic is fine, but they should be the exception and not the rule.

Try to reduce double jeopardy situations where if competitors miss one question, they get the next one wrong too because it relies on the answer to the first one. In some events, like Ornithology or other ID events, this is nearly impossible because of how questions are set up, and with others some good questions require multiple parts that rely on previous answers. Try to either reduce the number of these questions, or, if you trust your graders, give participants credit when their answer follows logically from their previous answer.
Ex.
1) 1+2=x. What does x equal?
2) x+3=y. What does y equal?
If a competitor put 4 for x but 7 for y, they would get question 1 wrong and either full or partial credit for question 2.

Also, make sure there are a variety of question levels to get a good score distribution, and remember to designate tie-breakers.
https://scioly.org/wiki/index.php/How_t ... ctice_Test (you've probably already used this link but just in case)
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Re: Advice for First-Time Volunteers

Post by BennyTheJett » August 16th, 2020, 5:48 pm

I'd say to not have too many people per event. It just makes logistics harder and in general harder to grade due to different people having different interpretations of answers. I'm sure it has been hit on before but just thought I'd give my 2 cents.

EDIT: For first time volunteers you should also check the test quality, and there will likely be some changes that need to be made to make them hard enough to be at a competition level. Some tests I've taken that were written by college profs ended up being really easy due to them underestimating the nerdiness of a scioly kid.
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Re: Advice for First-Time Volunteers

Post by sciolyperson1 » August 16th, 2020, 6:29 pm

BennyTheJett wrote:
August 16th, 2020, 5:48 pm
EDIT: For first time volunteers you should also check the test quality, and there will likely be some changes that need to be made to make them hard enough to be at a competition level. Some tests I've taken that were written by college profs ended up being really easy due to them underestimating the nerdiness of a scioly kid.
I think all tests, no matter how experienced the writer is, should be quality checked.
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Re: Advice for First-Time Volunteers

Post by EastStroudsburg13 » August 17th, 2020, 2:13 pm

gz839918 wrote:
August 16th, 2020, 1:34 pm
One thing that still haunts me, that I really, really wish I had prepared for, is to never let other volunteers bully you into running things poorly.

I once had a volunteer insist on grading a question that I told him specifically to leave for me to grade. I've had a volunteer who yelled at me for saying significant figures were in the rules. I've had a volunteer who sneered at me "how do you know? It's not like you've run this event before." I've had a volunteer who hadn't read the rules before the tournament day, but insisted that his interpretation was correct.

Conversely, you should never bully other volunteers into running an event your way. I've made mistakes too, including times where I entirely forgot to ask a team to do their song score test, and a volunteer had to tell me I was wrong, and I had to ask the team to come back to the sounds of music room. This can grow into thorny issues of how to figure out who's right, and who's wrong. The first step is to always be polite, so that nobody should have to raise their voice, and while it should be obvious, I've had to stand firm towards other volunteers shouting at me. I try to avoid interrupting them, and then I make sure I explain myself calmly. "Calmly" doesn't mean I should concede any ground, but rather, to appeal to reason. (Sometimes there is no room to concede ground, like if a volunteer asks me to do the Volume Score Test, which was removed from the rules.) Depending on a decision's magnitude, like disagreeing with somebody on whether to tier a team, you may want to ask tournament staff to weigh in.

This is one of the more serious things on my mind, but I'll post more ideas whenever I can squeeze in some time to write them down.
Jumping off of this, I think there always needs to be a clear hierarchy that ultimately, the event supervisor gets the final say, as they ultimately bear the responsibility for the event. Volunteers need to realize that, in the end, they are there to facilitate the supervisors. That is not to say that volunteers cannot question the supervisor, but it needs to come from a place of suggestion, not demand.
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Re: Advice for First-Time Volunteers

Post by pepperonipi » August 17th, 2020, 3:22 pm

One thing I'd say to first-time volunteers, which I think is important: Get a general sense of what the difficulty is supposed to be like for the tournament before writing the test. It also helps if you can, as SilverBreeze said, communicate with the other ES's and/or the tournament director before the tournament.

I understand this may not be the biggest issue, but it really helps to avoid disappointed tournament directors and/or students, as well as help to prevent wonky scores. I made the Detector Building test for a local invitational way harder than it needed to be, because my school was used to prepping for harder tournaments. That was a bad mistake.

This happens all the time, but I think that including this point can really help out. You will have volunteers who think they know exactly what they're doing and then write a very easy test, like Benny said above:
BennyTheJett wrote:
August 16th, 2020, 5:48 pm
Some tests I've taken that were written by college profs ended up being really easy due to them underestimating the nerdiness of a scioly kid.
And then you could have test writers who are so scared about forgetting something on the rules or think the test is all about their specific region of study that they make the test super hard or extremely off topic.

And, help them figure this out. You shouldn't expect Mrs. Margaret from My Average High School to understand what the difficulty of your SciOly tournament will be, because although she's a great AP Physics teacher, she's never encountered a Machines test in the wild, let alone your local tournament most likely. If you can, give them some test examples of what you expect, whether from our test exchange or some you've collected. Explain to them your local area demographic, and what students in SciOly are like around you. And help them, like you're doing now!

I think it's great you're doing this. Also, just remember to try to avoid it being too lengthy; those who are volunteering their time may not want to read a 20-page document about proctoring a single event.
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