BLOOMINGTON - Six gifted Bloomington Junior High School math and science students sat with eyes glued to the clock, waiting for it to tick to 9 a.m.
In Chicago, they waited for 9 a.m. In New York, 10 a.m.; in Jerusalem, 8 p.m.
"I'm excited. When do we start?" asked Rikka Skillrud, one of the BJHS students who had been anticipating the event for weeks.
Within moments, she heard a woman's voice over the computer, speaking from Jerusalem and welcoming gifted students from about 30 schools in Israel, New York, Chicago and Bloomington to a real-time, international math and science competition.
The Bloomington students were invited to participate in Thursday's International Virtual Competition as part of their involvement with the Illinois Math & Science Academy in Aurora and its E2K (Excellence Beyond 2000) program.
The atmosphere in the room was tense as the students got the first question. As a 60-second timer ticked down, seventh-graders Skillrud, Lauren Yoder, Alex Kizer, Ben Gesell, Ram Santanam and D.J. Olker huddled to discuss the question.
They answered correctly with time to spare.
Science questions about bacteria and viruses followed rapidly at one point. Some questions gave students as long as four minutes to answer.
Bloomington's team was often right, but not always.
To answer a question about identifying viruses by shape, the Bloomington team "raised its hand" by pressing a computer icon.
The moderator chose them, and they answered correctly over the microphone. They were greeted with applause from the other side of the world.
"This is fun. I'd like to be friends with all the people," Kizer said.
Soon after a New York team was asked to answer, and noisy talking came all at once. "Our bad," said one student, provoking laughter.
The six BJHS students gathered around a central computer or sat at adjacent computers doing quick Internet research and relaying it when more information was needed. Sometimes they dashed to the back of the room where prepared Petri dishes and telescopes were ready resources for finding answers.
Through it all, the teachers tried to be supportive without interfering.
"I'll root for you, I'll cheer for you, I'll cry for you, but I will not give you the answer," said science teacher and team coach, Mike Jones, when a student looked up at him in question. "You're six smart kids. You can figure it out."
Sue Silvey, Bloomington Junior High School's principal, dropped in for moral support for the team and soon was caught up in the tension and excitement as students debated one of the answers.
This was the second year for the competition and the first time Bloomington competed, Jones said.
The prizes are mostly "bragging rights," Jones said. Certificates likely will be awarded as well, but much of the reward was the chance to interact with students from so far away, Jones said.
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