01/30/11 — Projects help open students up to science

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Projects help open students up to science

By Gary Popp
Published in News on January 30, 2011 1:50 AM

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Wayne County students participated in a countywide science fair at Meadow Lane Elementary School on Saturday morning. Judges spoke with budding scientists on the projects they developed. Judge Colby Webb speaks with Carver Elementary third-grade student Hunter Strickland about his science project.

More than 50 teams of students from across the school district competed Saturday in Wayne County's countywide science fair.

The students were vying for the 12 spots that will continue to the regional science fair in Wilmington on Feb. 12, where the top projects from seven counties will compete for a chance at state honors.

Students from 12 schools entered the fair, which had categories designated for kindergartners through seniors in high school.

While competition was in the air, it was the joy of learning that really motivated the junior scientists.

"Doing projects is one of the most effective and motivating teaching techniques there is," said Dr. Ralph Smith, director of secondary and science education at Wayne County Schools.

Before taking on a role as an administrator, Smith taught science at Eastern Wayne High School for 22 years.

Smith is the force behind the science fair, which is now in its fourth year.

"We don't need a fair to have science projects. This is just a way of recognizing and demonstrating to the public because people need to see what our kids are doing because a lot of them are doing great science," he said.

A group of five volunteers from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base served as judges.

A large group of parents gathered in the cafeteria of Meadow Lane Elementary on Saturday to watch the children set up their exhibits and explain to the judges how they went from hypothesis to conclusion.

"I think it is a wonderful eye opener for the parents to see what is going on in science in the county, and they are usually very pleased and excited and glad their kids participated," Smith said.

The students' projects were chosen for the County Science Fair after participating in a smaller science fair in their schools.

The students' projects were as varied as they were interesting. Some of the projects on display set out to answer the following questions:

What makes the oceans move? What decomposes faster, a refrigerated or non-refrigerated banana? Can a baseball be thrown faster in warmer weather? How does plate tectonics lead to earthquakes? How can the oxidation properties of citrus fruits be used to create invisible ink? Does stove top or microwave popcorn leave behind more unpopped kernels? What water temperature allows for maximum breathing conditions for goldfish?

Lauren Jordan, an 8-year-old third-grader at Carver Elementary, said she worked with her dad to test the power of different fruits and vegetables to power an LED light.

Lauren's project consisted of six lemons with galvanized nails and copper wires sticking out from them. Two wires lead to a small dimly lit LED light.

Lauren said she thought lemons would create the most power because they are the most sour fruit, and they have the most acid.

"Science is really neat to me. If you do something you don't know what is going to happen," Lauren explained.

Lauren said she tested the power generating potential of lemons, potatoes, tomatoes and apples.

The skills Lauren is learning may help her in her career aspirations. Lauren said she wants to eventually teach kindergarten or work with the FBI.

Lauren said she wants to work with the FBI because on TV they use chemicals to show what the criminals did.

Michael Walson, an 11-year-old sixth-grader at Greenwood Middle, said he picked out his project to help out his mom.

"My mom hates the taste of venison, so I tried to figure out a way to get the gamy taste out so my mom would like it."

Ryan said the meat used in the experiment came from a deer he killed himself with a rifle while hunting with his dad.

In the experiment, Ryan seasoned three slabs of meat in different marinades -- salt brine, Pepsi and apple-cider vinegar.

To find out which product best masked the venison flavor, Michael gave a sample of each of the meats to a 10-person sample group, which included his mother.

The deer meat prepared in the salt brine was the overall winner among the participants.

"Now, my mom loves eating deer meat," Michael said.

Michael said he enjoys doing experiments and that he tries to do at least one project a year.

"It was a lot of fun because I got to spend a lot of time with my dad, and science is my favorite subject," Michael said.

Ryan Smith, a 10-year-old fifth-grader at Mount Olive Middle, created an experiment testing the strength of arches of different lengths.

"We found out the longest arch was the strongest," Ryan said.

Ryan said he tested the strength of the wooden arches by adding water to a five-gallon bucket fixed the center of the each arch.

"My grandfather helped cut the pieces of plywood," Ryan said.

Ryan said he is considering a career in the cruise ship industry, but he may decide to work as an engineer like his father.

Caitlyn Andrews, a seventh-grader at Eastern Wayne, and her project mate, Mary Lindsay Edwards, wanted to see if they could train earthworms.

"Our result was just how we predicted -- we were able to train all three worms," Caitlyn said.

The girls' project included a simple, dirt-filled path for the worms to travel. The initial phase of the experiment included the girls administering a small shock to the worms when they traveled in a certain direction on the path. Eventually the worms avoided the shock-prone areas.

"It was just a little shock that would not hurt the worm," Caitlyn said, putting to rest any concerns about the worms' welfare.

"I think this type or learning is different because we were able to experience new things and see the process," Caitlyn said. "It was also fun to hold the worms."

Caitlyn's mother, Danelle Andrews, watched the excitement of the fair from the sidelines.

"It was fun for them to work on the project. They were very excited," Ms. Andrews said.

Ms. Andrews saw the benefit of having the girls participate in the extracurricular event.

"The girls had to learn the whole scientific process, then conduct the experiment using the process," Ms. Andrews said. "It has really been a great experience for them."

Korrie McEachen, a 10-year-old fifth-grader at Dillard Middle School, illustrated how a plant can absorb water in her project, "Suck It Up."

"My project shows how water flows through the stem to the top of a flower," Korrie said.

Korrie's project exhibited white carnations in full bloom with petals that had turned the color of the food-coloring infused water in their vases.

Korrie's project showed how the petals gradually faded blue, green and red in a 72-hour time frame.

"I liked to see the change of the flowers," Korrie said.

Korrie's teacher, Ms. Nekesha Matlock, is proud of her students who created experiments for the science fair.

"By doing this project, Korrie can now relate to how plants benefit when it rains outside," Ms. Matlock said. "The kids are able to better explore and explain how things around them happen."

Ms. Matlock said the projects are a supplement to the children's classroom experiences.

"It helps with their classroom learning. It helps them make connections," Ms. Matlock said.

Ms. Matlock said the fair provides an opportunity that traditional course work does not always provide.

"This gives them a chance to take pride in their work. It makes them a more complete student," Ms. Matlock said.

Jennifer Heim has been teaching at Meadow Lane Elementary for 10 years and is the lead science teacher.

"This event is important because if you don't give kids a chance to learn science with a hands-on approach, we won't be competitive on the global scale," Ms. Heim said.

"I emphasize to my students to pursue a project on something that they have a passion for," Ms. Heim said. "There is just a lot of excitement and enthusiasm surrounding the projects.

"It takes lessons from the text book and makes it applicable to things the kids can touch, feel and see."