Students practice using databases in research competition

HAMPSTEAD - The students, seated in rows and grouped in twos and threes, waited. Parents, seated nearby, watched their children and waited. Heads turned toward the moderator as the first question of the SCORE Challenge was read out loud.

"Pablo Neruda is a poet from what South American Country?" the moderator asked.

The about 20 groups of students huddled around their laptop computers. They talked in hushed voices so as not to tip their competitors off on what online database they were using or the answer they had found.

The challenge acronym stands for Student Collaboration of Research Exploration, and it's in its second year. Middle school students worked in teams using a laptop and three different databases - World Book Online, CultureGrams and Biography in Context - to determine the answers to myriad questions in timed increments.

Media specialists Laurie Owings, of Shiloh Middle School, and Kathleen Brunnett, of North Carroll Middle School, developed the challenge last year for their two schools. The Carroll County Public Library system partnered with the school and helped expand the databases to which the students had access.

"We wanted to do a fun competition," Owings said, "but use skills we thought they'd need in the future."

But this year, the competition expanded.

Before the hour-long challenge commenced, students from each of the four participating schools were asked to stand up. Claps and cheers filled the Shiloh Middle School cafeteria as each school was recognized: East Middle School, West Middle School, North Carroll Middle School and Shiloh Middle School.

Then, the competition was off. Three rounds, six questions a piece. The time limits for each question decreased with the rounds, from one minute to 50 seconds to 40 seconds.

A team of three seventh graders from North Carroll Middle School listened to the first question and then rushed to World Book Online, where they found the correct answer.

The girls - Sara Luber, Hannah Yaede and Erika Lucas - said the competition and its practices beforehand have helped them navigate online databases more quickly.

In the third round, eighth-grader Alex Lopez quickly typed as he attempted to figure out which U.S. inventor pioneered the development of packaged food. Sixth-grader Jossalin Hughes whispered how to spell the name Lopez found. And sixth-grader Callie Houck wrote it on a white board.

The judge for the North Carroll High School group raised her hand indicating the team's answer of Clarence Birdseye was correct.

Lopez wants to be a computer programmer when he grows up, and he said learning how to work the databases has helped improve his computer skills.

And the competition had been enjoyable, Houck said.

"It's a fun thing to do with my friends and a good learning experience," she said.

Not to mention that learning the different factoids had been interesting, Hughes said.

As the challenge wound to an end, there was a clear first place winner: Chid Nnake, Dubem Nnake and Aayush Pokharel, of North Carroll Middle School.

A tie-breaker of sudden death questions ensued. The teams had 30 seconds to find the correct answers.

Matthew Ammon, Luke Frances and Evan Zielinski, of Shiloh Middle School, came in second place. And Chris Bell, Garrett Shindle and Ricky Eason, of North Carroll Middle School, received third place.

Yet, the event armed all students with the tools of research, Colleen Lucas, Shiloh Middle School media clerk, said. Many are apt to use Wikipedia, but the challenge aimed to encourage them to use the correct strategies to research a wide array of subjects.

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