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Should SO exams reward preparation or critical thinking?

Posted: April 19th, 2014, 5:37 pm
by JustDroobles
I understand that the two categories are not mutually exclusive, but which do you think is more in the spirit of Science Olympiad - Some exams may give you nearly all of the information you need, whether it be experimental data, graphs, equations, or an informational blurb, and the competitors must use mostly their critical thinking to produce the correct answers since all the teams have equal resources. Other exams are based solely on short answers which would be impossible to answer without preparation. In some events the intent is clear - For example, I would expect Anatomy to be nearly completely all knowledge based, and Technical Problem Solving should be about problem solving.

Some events which I thought were clear have surprised me - I was once required to do complicated graph and data interpretation as well as calculations in Dynamic Planet (Earthquakes and Volcanoes), and I usually consider that event knowledge-based. On the other hand, I am surprised to see history questions required in Simple and Compound Machines exams this year, when I would usually expect such an event to be based on physics and problem solving.

A good middle of the road event to debate might be Astronomy. Some exams I had in high school were based entirely on solving equations or analyzing graphs, while others focused more on qualitative stellar evolution and the DSO's so your performance was based on studying and note preparation. Although a mix of these types of questions is probably best, which type of exam do you think aligns better with the either the spirit of Science Olympiad, or the spirit of particular events?

This is probably the most controversial way to phrase this issue for a good discussion:

Is it unfair for a student who is unprepared, but a good problem solver, to outperform a prepared and knowledgeable student who fails to think critically on competition day?

Re: Should SO exams reward preparation or critical thinking?

Posted: April 19th, 2014, 5:59 pm
by Astroknight
At it's core,it is not unfair, as it is a competition, and any path to winning is a valid path. For most events, you do have to study for the topic or build something in preparation of the competition. For most study events, if you haven't studied the material, you'll have no idea how to answer questions on the test. For building events, obviously, you have to spend time building a device that will outperform the competition. For lab events, you have to prepare methods to ,again, outperform the competition. For a test to reward critical thinking over preparation would be violating the purpose of Science Olympiad. What makes Science Olympiad different is the fact that's it's not about talent, it's about the student's work ethic.

Re: Should SO exams reward preparation or critical thinking?

Posted: April 19th, 2014, 6:03 pm
by AJTheGreat1729
I feel that some events should reward different things. For example, I walk in to Road Scholar knowing hardly anything but I use entirely problem solving skills to answer questions. My partner, on the other hand, knows orders of magnitude more than I but I am still able to answer most questions expeditiously. However, in Entomology, I feel that the event is and should stay almost purely knowledge-based, with the only problem-solving aspect being creating dichotomous keys and/or using the field guide to identify insects.

Moreover, build events such as Boom and WV/Scrambler are purely problem solving - there isn't a test. I feel Science Olympiad rewards each well already, and it is more a matter placing of the student who excels at problem solving into the proper events, and placing the student whose mind is a solid-state 4TB drive into a high-memorization event.

Just my thoughts on the matter!

AJ

Re: Should SO exams reward preparation or critical thinking?

Posted: April 19th, 2014, 6:12 pm
by EastStroudsburg13
I think you pretty much hit the nail on the head (or at least alluded to it); the best tests will have a balance between the two. In fact, my opinion is that the best questions require diligent preparation AND the ability to think critically. That is, you use information that you have prepared for the event and then apply higher level thinking to that knowledge to come up with the answer.

One famous way of figuring out how deep the thinking required for a question is Bloom's Taxonomy. What Bloom's Taxonomy has is six levels of thinking: Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Evaluation, and Synthesis. Each is associated with different sorts of tasks, as demonstrated by the image below:
Image

While diligent preparation is definitely rewarded by Knowledge and Comprehension questions, the ideal scenario is to have higher critical thinking levels, so as to promote learning and understanding the nature of the science of the event, rather than just gathering as much knowledge as you can.

Of course, some events are going to reward preparation more than others. ID events, for example, drastically favor the well-prepared because they can ID things quickly and efficiently, and will have a great advantage over the less-prepared. Things like Technical Problem Solving, meanwhile, focus more on the ability to think deeply about the problem and understanding what needs to be done to reach an answer (although this was more true back when the rules were even more vague than they are now). However, in the end, a team that is prepared enough that they understand the material well enough to engage in critical thinking about the topic should be a team that does better than one that can only do one or the other.

PS: I do think it is easier to think critically if you are well-prepared, rather than the other way around. So there's that. :)

Re: Should SO exams reward preparation or critical thinking?

Posted: April 19th, 2014, 6:27 pm
by meteorology125
I think that Science Olympiad should have some more critical thinking. I would definitely like to see more critical thinking in Meteorology instead of it being entirely a memorization event. Road Scholar would be a good example of a critical thinking event. I usually don't do much studying for Road Scholar as opposed to Entomology, which is a knowledge event. I think it is good to have a balance of both knowledge and critical thinking events. Each type of event is important to science.

In response to the original question, I think it depends on the event. Some events should only be knowledge-based while others should contain more critical thinking. Also, events can also have a mix of both.

Re: Should SO exams reward preparation or critical thinking?

Posted: April 19th, 2014, 7:48 pm
by neapturkey
I think that in some events, Disease Detectives, for example, critical thinking should be employed. While epidemiologists need a vast knowledge of diseases, they must think critically when presented with an outbreak to find the outbreak's source. In my opinion, there's no reason the event should be any different. As it's been said before in this thread, a good test will have a balance. Some questions on the Disease test at States could be answered easily by well prepared students; for example, if the test presented a blurb on an outbreak asked for the probable source of the disease, a student who had read up on that disease could give you the most common source off the top of their head. On the other hand, the unprepared student could think critically about the blurb and come up with a reasonable answer. I think these questions are about as fair as you can get, for both prepared and unprepared students are able to answer, the prepared ones with more ease and speed, giving them a considerable advantage (which is certainly well-deserved). Of course, if an almost completely study-based event like Entomology started throwing critical thinking questions at competitors, that would be unfair.

Re: Should SO exams reward preparation or critical thinking?

Posted: April 19th, 2014, 8:50 pm
by EastStroudsburg13
Some events should only be knowledge-based while others should contain more critical thinking.
Of course, if an almost completely study-based event like Entomology started throwing critical thinking questions at competitors, that would be unfair.
While you both made great points in your posts that I agree with, I am not sure I agree with either of these statements. I don't think that any test should just be made up of questions that ask for knowledge about the event. Every field of science can have higher-level thinking questions, and while the ratio of critical thinking to straight knowledge can differ, I believe it is the mark of a good team that they would do well on an analysis, synthesis, or evaluation type question, and it is the mark of a good test to sprinkle some of these questions in to encourage the development of these skill areas. Critical thinking is an important part of all fields of science, even the ones we may not expect.

Re: Should SO exams reward preparation or critical thinking?

Posted: May 16th, 2014, 10:00 am
by strengthuc
I don't understand the point of events that place a premium on memorizing what end up being pretty meaningless lists of obscure information. I know this is my bias. Can't see the point beyond knowing the most common ones and knowing the various ways to categorize according to the field.

Re: Should SO exams reward preparation or critical thinking?

Posted: May 16th, 2014, 1:29 pm
by syo_astro
I don't understand the point of events that place a premium on memorizing what end up being pretty meaningless lists of obscure information. I know this is my bias. Can't see the point beyond knowing the most common ones and knowing the various ways to categorize according to the field.
What do you mean meaningless lists? A lot of facts in Astronomy (any event, but this is the one I know best) could be considered useless facts, but I think if you really studied you should be able to recognize even obscure-sounding vocab. Of course, that vocab is useful, and I try to make it really important stuff closely tied to the event (and at that I of course throw in diagrams for concepts, math questions, etc). A lot of people don't have time to make the tests, which leads to substandard tests (it's the major issue I see, if that's what you mean). Another thing is that grading can be subjective depending on the question type and that's why if you have someone in Ohio making a test for NY, the person would certainly want little or no grading mistakes.

Re: Should SO exams reward preparation or critical thinking?

Posted: May 16th, 2014, 7:12 pm
by EpicFailOlympian
I see study/lab events as basically self-studying a high school/introductory college course 3-5 years before you're supposed to learn them in school. Then you're given a 50 min final exam about anything in the subject. It's a test of your ability to self-study and your motivation/dedication. It motivates you to try to learn concepts far beyond your years, and perhaps interest you in some field of science. It cheapens it when people make the test so easy that you don't need to study to get the answers right. Make it like a college final exam.

As for crappy regional tests, would a standardized tests created and curated by soinc be a good idea? It does force quality control but then you'd lose all the individuality of the proctor and it'll just be well, another standardized test.