About 150 students from 24 Northern California schools gathered Saturday at Sacramento State for the 29th annual Nature Bowl competition.
The environment-focused competition included a "Jeopardy"-style nature quiz, relay races and individual presentations.
"The kids are becoming stewards of our environment," said Bruce Forman, a naturalist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the event sponsor. "This shows the kids that they, too, can make a difference in conservation."
Dylan Ek, a third-grader from Lake Forest Elementary School in El Dorado Hills, was munching on a burrito after a long morning of competitions.
"It's hard to hold onto your knowledge when you're under pressure," the 10-year-old said, relieved that he was done for the day.
The Nature Bowl is broken down into two divisions – one with third- and fourth-graders and the other with fifth- and sixth-graders. Students work in teams of three to seven children.
Even at the elementary level, the questions are challenging. At one "Jeopardy" session, Forman asked, "What is the origin of energy that drives the water cycle?"
The contestants huddled together discussing the answer before one shouted, "The sun."
Parent Dale Cox said the competition got his daughter Madeline, 9, to "think on her feet."
During the infomercial, where the kids are asked to make a 60-second pitch about an environmental issue, Madeline discussed the choice between paper and plastic bags at grocery stores.
"The answer is: None of them, bring your own bag," she said.
Madeline has applied what she learned by making a special tag to put in the Cox family car reminding them to bring bags to the store.
Saturday's contest was the culmination of three months of work, Forman said. The students had to conduct original research and study vocabulary terms extensively.
Workshops at the first of the year outlined the program, and eight regional semifinals occurred before the California State University, Sacramento, event.
According to Fish and Wildlife, the competitive aspect of the bowl is downplayed so that all students enjoy the activities, which are aligned with the state's science standards.
In the 29 years Forman has organized the Nature Bowl, he said, the focus has shifted from international issues to local environmental problems, such as water, pollution and recycling.
"This is about getting involved and being good stewards of the environment," Forman said.
For information on the Nature Bowl, go to www.dfg.ca .gov/regions/2/naturebowl.
Call The Bee's Richard Chang, (916) 321-1018. Follow him on Twitter @RichardYChang.