Bel Air Middle students place second in national Knowledge Master Open

January 15, 1995|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,Sun Staff Writer

A correct answer gets "Nice Neurons" or "Wowie Zowie." A blooper elicits a "Tragic Blunder."

The Bel Air Middle students press ahead with the multiple-choice questions as they appear on the computer screen. The Knowledge Master Open (KMO) competition requires "Jeopardy" reflexes to win points.

"B, b, b, b," eighth-grader Crystal Tang shouts confidently, answering a question. Another Nice Neurons and praise from a student.

"Good, Crystal," eighth-grader Jennie Callas tells her during a practice session.

Crystal and Jennie are members of the school's 15-member KMO team, which recently won state and national titles in an academic computer competition involving 1,100 middle schools in 47 states and six countries.

"We were surprised by the Division IV title," said Roy R. Caudill, a faculty team coach. "We didn't realize we won until we got a package in the mail with a plaque."

Division IV schools included those with student enrollments of 1,001 or more.

Overall, the Bel Air Middle students finished second among the middle-school teams, scoring 1,701 points out of 2,000. They were only nine points behind the top competitor from Fort Wayne, Ind.

"After we broke 1,700 in the final competition, we jumped up and down," sixth-grader James Baker said. The semi-annual contest is sponsored by Academic Hallmarks, a Colorado-based publishing company.

The results of the competition Dec. 7 were announced last week by county school officials. Winners received trophies, $100 worth of computer software and a plaque for the school.

The KMO also "gives them the foundation for going to high school for academic competitions there," said Mr. Caudill, a former school-wide enrichment teacher at Bel Air Middle who is a teacher specialist in language arts for the county school system.

The students already are getting ready for the next competition in April. And there is one thing they will do differently: "Practice math," sixth-grader Patrick Tyler said immediately, as his team members nodded in agreement.

Other team members include eighth-graders Danny Mastrian, Evan Huyette-Arizza, Alexander Ioannidis and Brian Samson; seventh-graders Sonia Sharma, Andy Spencer, Dana Ellenberger and Jessie Reeder-Blom; and sixth-graders Mark Canter, Ryan Botzler and Abhinav Nellore.

The children took a qualifying test at the beginning of the school year to be chosen for the team. They practice one day a week for the competitions.

"It's not just knowledge. It's applying what they know," Mr. Caudill said.

"We teach them strategies," said Judith Savage, a team coach and language arts teacher at Bel Air Middle.

For example, the students learn to call out the letter of their answer instead of using time to read a sentence response. Some also read the answers from the bottom up -- e,d,c -- while others scan them from the top down, she said.

"When someone makes mistakes, they don't make fun of him or her. We establish that in the beginning," Mrs. Savage said. "We tell them to shake it off."

During the 200-question competitions, team members huddle around two monitors hooked up to one keyboard. They call out the answers as a student types in the response.

"It's tense, but you just have to concentrate," said Danny Mastrian, who shares keyboard duties with Brian Samson.

The team's success has been well-received at Bel Air Middle, Mr. Caudill said. "When it was announced that they won, you could hear the kids in various rooms clapping and cheering," he said.

"We do so much promotion with sports it's nice to see the kids accepted for their brains," Mrs. Savage said. "It's not uncool to be smart."

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