Elementary school students show their scientific prowess

Science fairs were in full swing at the Valley's elementary schools this week, with students slaking their thirst for knowledge and teachers spurring them on.

"It's about problem solving," said Jacks Valley Elementary teacher Cathy Wendell, who, along with special education teacher Adriene Bilotta, organized the school's fair on Tuesday.

Minden and Meneley elementary schools also had their fairs Tuesday.

"The skills the students gain can be applied in everyday life " finding a problem, proposing a solution and solving it," Wendell said.

Sixth-grader Nathan Clinger wanted to solve which small projectile would travel the farthest when launched from his miniature trebuchet, or catapult. He had hypothesized that a bouncy ball would travel the farthest, but changed his mind after the experiment.

"The marble went farther," he said. "It was the smallest size with the heaviest weight among the small objects."

Classmate Eli Kohler, 11, used the Internet to research long-term temperature change in Nevada, Minnesota and Florida.

"My hypothesis was right, that temperatures have changed little or not at all over the last 50 years," Eli said. "Nevada went down a degree, Minnesota went up a degree, and Florida stayed the same."

Bilotta said 212 projects were displayed at the fair, with participants ranging from kindergarten classes to individual sixth-graders. There were also eight inventions, including a sweatshirt with an electric zipper, a chef robot and a water-powered dirt bike.

About 190 projects filled the rooms of Minden Elementary School.

"The number of projects keeps growing," said Minden teacher Lauren Hayes, who organizes the event every year. "The students are more interested, but we couldn't do this without the growing support of the community."

Volunteer judges listened as fourth-grader Kaylie Altringer discussed her telecommunications project. She explained how paper cups connected with string can convey messages when used like a telephone. She brought in two guitars and an electric tuner to illustrate how vibrations in the air can travel through different mediums, and she also showed how light can travel through optical fiber cable.

"These all have to do with communications," she said. "It seemed really fun to learn the science."

Erik Flores, 11, conducted a different kind of experiment. He put Cheerios into two bowls, one with milk and one with water, and waited to see which liquid would dissolve the breakfast cereal faster. Within an hour, the Cheerios in the water had liquefied. The Cheerios in the milk took nearly two hours to turn soggy.

"My hypothesis was right," he said. "I think water made the Cheerios soggier because its pure liquid. Milk has more fat and stuff."

Erik said his fondness for Cheerios motivated the investigation, as a fondness for soda led Meneley Elementary sixth-grader Jasmyn Carr to experiment with different containers.

"I usually don't like my soda warm, so I wanted to see which one gets cold faster, an aluminum can or plastic bottle," Jasmyn said.

Jasmyn put a bottle and a can of diet cola in her refrigerator and waited for an hour and a half. Then she removed the containers and measured the temperature of their contents.

"The can was about two degrees colder than the bottle," she said.

Jasmyn's project was one of 192 at Meneley's science fair. Fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders competed in the event. A popular pursuit among them was testing out brand name products.

Ten-year-old Chris Engleheart tested the absorbency of Huggies and Pampers. He filled each diaper with water, in half-cup increments, and watched for leaking.

"I filled them with half-cups until they dripped," he said.

Reportedly, Huggies held three cups, while Pampers absorbed three and a half.

"Pampers won by a half-cup," Chris said.

Like many of the students, Chris' diaper experiment was inspired by real-life concern.

"My mom really wanted to know," he said. "I have a little brother who is 15-months-old and is getting bigger."

Meneley teacher and event organizer Cathy Hackler said the science fair teaches students about the inquiry process.

"The inquiry process can be very challenging," she said. "Just formulating a valid question that determines the effect of one variable on the other can be difficult. Then, designing an experiment where everything else is controlled, and that can be repeated and possibly duplicated, requires patience."

But Hackler said judges were impressed by the knowledge and enthusiasm of the participants.

"All students who participated should be very proud of themselves," she said. "And if they learned the inquiry process and had some fun doing it, then they are all winners."


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