SAN LUIS OBISPO — Three teams from San Luis Obispo County competed alongside 13 other teams from all over California at the National Science Bowl’s Central Coast  Regional Middle School Science Bowl at Cal Poly Saturday. Local teams included those from Templeton Middle School, SLO Classical Academy and Atascadero Middle School which boasted the only all-girl team at the competition. 

The competition includes teams of four facing off in two eight-minute halves with a two-minute halftime at which time a fifth member can be subbed in. The students hit a buzzer and have five seconds to answer questions in categories including life science, physical science, earth and space science, energy, general science and math. 

“These questions are high-level, very challenging,” said Sarah Iba, a seventh-grade science teacher at Atascadero Middle School. “My Cal Poly tutors who were helping us study often commented that they hadn’t seen this content until college! The math questions are crazy — very difficult to solve in the five-second time limit.” 

There’s also a “toss-up” question where all eight competitors can buzz in and try to answer. There are no penalties for wrong answers but if a person gets a question wrong, the other team has five seconds to hit their buzzer and provide the correct answer. Each correct answer earns the team four points and the chance to answer a bonus question worth 10 points. 


“There’s quite a bit of gamesmanship involved,” Iba said, adding that the game also has some interesting penalties such as “the blurt.” 

“If you blurt out the answer before the moderator calls on you, the other team automatically gets the four points and the right to the bonus question,” she said. “I love this rule for middle schoolers… totally applicable.” 

Competing for the Atascadero Middle School team were eighth-graders Anna Lilly, Mya Nielson, Mia Nunez and Isabella Pecharich and seventh-grader Charlotte Jones. 

The AMS team lost its first match against St. John School from San Diego. The team dominated the second half of the round but fell short in total points. 

AMS won its second round against Townsend Middle School from Chino Hills by taking advantage of bonus questions and capitalizing on their opponent’s mistakes, Iba said. 

AMS also won its third match against Norris Middle School from Bakersfield before falling to Earl Warren Middle School, of Solana Beach in their fourth round by just two points. 

The team played a tiebreaker for third-place and a spot in the playoffs, but fell short by just one point. 

“I am so proud of how our team competed,” Iba said. “They worked very hard throughout the school year during our Science Bowl Saint’s Block and studied countless hours on their own time. Only one of our team members returned from our team last year, Mya Nielson, so this group was largely first-time participants. Their preparation paid off!”

St. John School from San Diego were the overall winners at the competition and will move on to the National Science Bowl competition in Washington, D.C.

“The team had so much fun, worked hard to overcome some nerves and were very impressive in their performance,” Iba said.