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USNCO - Chemistry Olympiad

USNCO - Chemistry Olympiad

USNCO - Chemistry Olympiad

Description, Procedures Manual, and invitation to Participate

The Maine section ACS (MEACS) has participated in the USNCO Chemistry Olympiad for several years. Since the 2005 exam period, the program has been coordinated by Robert Buntrock with the able and valuable assistance and participation by the UMaine Department of Chemistry staff and students. However, the task is often more time consuming and difficult to schedule than one person can effectively do. The following Procedures Manual is posted here in the event that the Coordinator can no longer mange the program or any portion thereof. Additional volunteers are welcome at any time.

Requirements for the Coordinator would include ACS membership and association with or appointment on the staff of a college or university in the state of Maine. The college or university should have adequate classroom and lab space available to hold the National exam. Please let the Coordinator or any MEACS officer of your willingness to participate.

Robert E. (Bob) Buntrock

Coordinator, MEACS USNCO, 2005-

USNCO—Chemistry Olympiad

Procedures Manual, Maine Section ACS

About the Chemistry Olympiad--Introduction

The Chemistry Olympiad (USNCO) program is an educational outreach program of the American Chemical Society at the local, national, and potentially international levels. The Maine Section ACS (MEACS) has participated in all but one of the program years and participation has been continuous from 2005 onward. The Coordinator has been Robert E. (Bob) Buntrock with extensive and able assistance from the staff and students of the Department of Chemistry at the University of Maine Orono. Of course the continuing support and participation of the chemistry teachers of Maine and their students is essential to the success of the program.

The ACS cooperates with chemical societies in many countries worldwide and selects a team of high school chemistry students to compete with other national teams at a rotating international site. Participating ACS local Sections determine how their qualifiers for a National Qualifying exam, held in mid-April, are selected. MEACS uses a Local exam, purchased from ACS, to determine our allotment of ten students taking the National exam. The students with the top twenty scores in the National exam are invited to the US National team study camp at the Air Force Academy in early June. The top five students from that camp constitute the US Chemistry Olympiad team. For more details on the national process, including the Coordinator’s Handbook, see the USNCO website .

The primary purpose of the USNCO program is to select and support the US National team. However, a very important secondary purpose is to foster and support chemistry education in general at the high school level. MEACS has used the latter approach to recruit participation in the program. We use the USNCO Local exam at the first stage of participation. Although the subject coverage and difficulty of the Local exam is roughly equivalent to the AP chemistry exam, we have marketed participation in the program to Maine high school chemistry teachers of students at any level. We understand that AP and Honors students will tend to do better than those students in basic courses, but we stress that the participation in taking the Local exam is a beneficial educational experience for all.

The ACS recommends administration of the Local exam by ACS volunteers and coordinators at sites around the Section. However, given the size of MEACS—the entire state of Maine—we have enlisted the participating teachers to administer the exam to their students, usually in the month of March. This is done on a secure basis and typically 12-18 schools around the state participate. The exams are scored at the request of the coordinator at the UMaine testing center and the top ten qualifiers for the National exam are notified. There are complications in this process which will be explained in the Procedures Manual.

Robert E. (Bob) Buntrock

Procedures Manual

The timeline typically begins with the invitation to participate in the following year’s Olympiad from the USNCO office in mid-October (Cecilia Hernandez, 202-872-6169, Margaret Thatcher, 202-872-6328, both at ). The deadline to submit the Participation Response Form is typically in late January but early response is recommended. Also, request full size posters advertising the date and location of the International competition. Recruitment of participating schools and teachers should begin as soon as possible. Currently, most of the communication with chemistry teachers at about 150 schools in Maine is by e-mail. The list of Chemistry teachers and their e-addresses should be updated already in September. Due to several school websites that are overly secure and less-than-informative, chemistry teachers cannot always be identified. In those cases, communication is by US Mail addressed to “Chemistry Teachers”. Letters of invitation to participate are sent out in late October by e-mail by the Coordinator and by US Mail by the Department of Chemistry Secretary (Ms. Jean Desrochers, ), exemplary copy of a letter attached. A reminder note by e-mail in early December is advised.

Give the teachers a deadline of at least a week before hand in order to place the order for exams. The exams come in packets of 25 and order additional exams to cover any last minute changes. The MEACS pays the cost, either by reimbursed Departmental Credit Card or by MEACS check. Do not order Scantron answer sheets or certificates. Instead, make arrangements with Lisa Henderson, UMaine Testing Services, to have the exams scored in early April and obtain a packet of score sheets. We prepare our own certificates and Jean Desrochers has the templates. Request the exams to be delivered as early as possible, typically mid-February. Submit the lab site form to ACS.

Have a list prepared with a number assigned to the school and teacher along with the number range of the exams to be sent. Prepare the score sheets by filling in, with a number 2 pencil, the number of the exam, justified to three digits (e.g., exam 1 is 001, exam 13 is 013) and the school number, justified to two digits (e.g., school number 2 is 02). For ease of reading, also write the exam number in the upper right corner outside the scoring area. When the exams arrive, write the exam number on the upper right corner of the front page and insert the appropriate score sheet. Assemble packets for each teacher, including the exam/score sheet combos as well as a poster and cover letter. A sample cover letter is attached. Arrange to have Jean Desrochers mail them before March 1. Any postage costs are reimbursed by MEACS.

Typically, the testing period (determined by ACS) is the month of March. Request the exams, score sheets, and any scratch paper be returned by a deadline that enables timely scoring of the exams. When all exams have been returned, extract the score sheets and assemble them in numeric order for scoring. Obtain the Excel scoring summary and prepare a ranked list of scores of the top three dozen.

Organizing invitations to take the National exam, typically given the 2nd or 3rd Saturday in April, gets complicated. MEACS is allowed 10 exams slots. However, candidates are limited to up to two per school. In addition, all candidates must be US citizens or permanent residents with green cards. Send e-mails as soon as possible to the teachers with the names of their one or two top qualifiers and ask for acceptance as soon as possible. If any qualifiers are unable to take the National exam, they can be replaced by the next ranking qualifiers in that school per the requirements listed above. Teachers can break ties by any method of their choice. During the process, send a letter of invitation by e-mail outlining policies and procedures for the exam day, sample attached, and encourage the teachers to give a copy to each student.

The National exam day schedule is outlined in the letter of invitation. A letter is sent by ACS in mid-March with a preliminary list of chemicals and equipment. Make arrangements with the UMaine Lab Manager, Bob Kirk, to have him and his lab TAs acquire and assemble the necessary setups for ten students. Also request the presence of two TAs the afternoon of the exam. They should have keys to the lab, give a preliminary lab procedure and safety presentation, proctor the lab session, and be prepared to sign off on all experiment procedures submitted by the students that their procedures are safe.

National exams are sent by ACS in late March. The coordinator prepares the master sheet of those taking the exam, henceforth identified by number 1 to 10. Additional preparations include arranging, with the Department of Chemistry Staff, for the morning exam room (typically Aubert 428), requesting two undergraduate proctors for the morning session (typically recruited from the Student Group), arranging to have Aubert unlocked at 8:00, and borrowing the Departmental Maine Card to pay for lunches. For the morning written exams sessions, the USNCO Coordinator makes announcements on exam procedures and is present in the room the entire time the exams are in session unless relieved by the student proctors. Otherwise, the proctors can sit at desks outside the room and study.

All students, proctors, and accompanying parents or teachers, are invited to lunch in the Student union, furnished by MEACS. Lunch tickets are distributed. The group meets in the lobby of Aubert and walks to the cafeteria. The coordinator chooses a cashier for all transactions and gives her the card. Proctors are providing guidance for food selection and all are instructed which cashier to use and to assemble at one or two tables to eat together. The coordinator goes last and collects the card and charge slips. When returning to Aubert for the lab session, the Graduate proctors give a brief “Cooks Tour” of the Aubert labs for the students, parents, and teachers. When all are finished with the lab session, the Coordinator collects all exam materials and prepares submission in the shipping return envelope provided by ACS. Return by Monday’s shipment is required.

After the Local exams are returned, preparation of the certificates begins. Each participating student and teacher receives a certificate as well as the students with the top ten scores. Each student taking the National exam also receives a certificate (those should be prepared after the National exam. Each participating school gets a packet with their Local exam booklets and score sheets, certificates, and any written exam booklets. These can be mailed as soon the packets can be assembled.

Students with the top 20 scores on the National exams are notified personally and promptly (that’s never happened for MEACS). Otherwise the only feedback is a spreadsheet with ranges of scores on the multiple choice session I. The spreadsheet is edited and the portion for each school sent to them by e-mail.

Additional Material

Letter of USNCO Invitation, 2013

The University of Maine

Department of Chemistry 5706 Aubert Hall Orono, Maine 04469-5706

Dear Teacher of Chemistry:

As coordinator for the Maine Section of the American Chemical Society (ACS) I’m pleased to announce that we will be participating in the 2013 US National Chemistry Olympiad (USNCO). The primary goals of this program are to stimulate interest and achievement in chemistry among high school students throughout the US and to provide recognition of outstanding young chemistry students and their teachers and schools.

Students competing in the USNCO are eligible to be selected as members of the U.S. team for the International Chemistry Olympiad (IChO). For the past 28 years, the U.S. has sent a team of four students to compete with nations around the world at the IChO. The students participate in both theoretical and laboratory examinations over several days. Gold, silver, and bronze medals are awarded to the best performers, and the IChO provides students with the opportunity to interact with their peers from other countries. The 2013 international event will be held in July 15-24 in Moscow, Russia.

We encourage you and your students to participate in this program. The identification of the four-member U.S. team begins at the local school level. We ask that you assist the Maine Section ACS in nominating students from the State to take the USNCO National examination. The selection process will involve a Local Exam to be administered in the period March 1-31 by you, the teachers, in your schools. This exam will be scored at the University of Maine. Students with the top ten scores (no more than 2 per school) will qualify for the National Exam to be held Sat. April 13, 2013 at the University of Maine, Orono.

We encourage ALL students who wish to take the Local Exam to be able to do so. There are requirements (citizenship, green card, age, etc.) that must be met to take the National Exam in April but these should not affect qualification to take the local exam. The Olympiad exams resemble the Advanced Placement exams in chemistry. However, don’t let that be a barrier to your students taking the local exam, even if they have not taken honors or AP Chemistry.

Those of you participating in administering the Local Exam, please send me, c/o the Department of Chemistry at the above address (or by e-mail, address below), the number of Local Exams that you’ll need by Jan. 8, 2013 at the very latest. For phone and e-mail, use my home contact information below. The first 9 teachers who respond (earlier better than later) will receive a 24 x 15” poster promoting the International competition in Moscow.

We encourage your school to participate in this academic Olympiad. All students and teachers who participate will be recognized and presented with a certificate. We hope this recognition will serve to stimulate interest in chemistry and to promote a positive attitude toward chemistry.


Bob Buntrock Maine ACS (207) 866-7930 (note change)

Sample Cover Letter, Local Exams shipment, USNCO 2013

Bob Buntrock

c/o University of Maine

Department of Chemistry

5706 Aubert Hall

Orono, ME 04469-5706

Example Letter:

Chemistry Teacher

A Maine High School

Town ,ME, zip code

Dear Chemistry Teacher:

As requested, enclosed are thirty eight copies of the 2013 US Chemistry Olympiad Local Exam with inserted answer sheets, numbered nnn-mmm. The exam is to be administered to the students you have selected to take this exam in the time period March 1 through March 28. Please administer the exams earlier rather than later and return the exams and answer sheets to me, c/o the Department of Chemistry at the above address for grading. Please have them in the mail no later than March 29. The exams and corresponding answer sheets are numbered serially. Have the student fill out their name in the boxes across the top below the name line on the upper left corner of the answer sheet, last name first, first last, plus the corresponding bubble chart below. Please keep a list of students and their exam numbers. Please keep each pair together and return to me c/o the Department of Chemistry at the above address.

There must be strict security for these exams! These tests may not be used for coaching of students before testing. Please avoid looking at the exams yourself other than to confirm the correct number of exams. Upon completion by the students, collect all exams and return both completed and unused exams and answer sheets without further examination as well as a copy of the list of students by exam number. Scores will be returned in early April and the exams themselves can be returned to you if you wish in early May. Please complete, sign, and return the enclosed certification of exam security along with the exams.

Fifteen schools have requested Local exams. The students with the top 10 scores, limit two per school, will be invited to participate in the National Exam and competition to be administered at the University of Maine on Saturday, April 13. The exam consists of two written sections totaling 3-1/4 hours in the morning and a 1-1/2 hour lab exam in the afternoon. Further details will accompany the invitation. If any of the students taking the exam attend a school other than your own, have them indicate that on the exam form.

The purpose of the local exam is not only to qualify students to take the National exam, but also to provide a learning opportunity to as many students as possible. To this end, certificates of participation will be sent to you in May for presentation to the students.

Bob Buntrock

Maine ACS


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