School science fairs instill confidence and enthusiasm
Ten-year-old Maddox Adams’ experiment confirmed his fears about nano-silver: that the tiny particles targeting fungi in consumer products also harm microscopic aquatic organisms. “I like fishing and go to a lot of ponds with my grandpa,” said the Cassidy Elementary fourth-grader. “I’m also an athlete so I wear a lot of sports clothes. Now, when I wash stuff, I’m thinking, ‘Oh, no. It’s going into a pond.’”
His project was a typical entry at Cassidy’s school science fair, where some 125 children presented trifold boards for scoring by retired teachers, Henry Clay High School students, and other volunteers. “The judges do like to see original projects, so students should try to think of something that’s unique or different,” said science lab teacher Kristi Fehr, adding, “The most important thing is that they’re interested in what they’re doing.”
Throughout January, students across Fayette County Public Schools warm up for the Kentucky American Water District Science Fair. The 2019 countywide competition, which is set for Feb. 2 at host Frederick Douglass High School, is open to students in grades 4 through 12 who advance from their school’s local contest. Cassidy likely will send along its top five projects.
Maddox thought he explained his experiment well for the school judges. “The higher levels of nano-silver over a longer period of time resulted in more daphnia dying in the pond water,” he wrote in his conclusion. Maddox suggested that washing machine makers could develop a filtering net or engineers could trap the silver particles in wastewater. He also proposed that businesses come up with an alternative to combat bacteria in clothing, hand sanitizer, cosmetics, and other products in order to protect streams and ponds. “From the results of his experiment, it is pretty telling,” Fehr said. “It’s really relevant to what’s going on right now. I don’t think people have thought about the repercussions.”
Fehr begins months in advance preparing her students for the science fair. In mid-fall, she hosts an information night where families are relieved to learn that simple experiments can be effective. “You don’t have to spend a lot of money. You can use things you already have at home,” she tells families. For instance, Maddox’s supplies included clear plastic cups and pond water, though he did borrow Fehr’s high-powered microscope to view the transparent freshwater crustaceans.
Fehr also shares ideas for projects, explaining what can and cannot be investigated scientifically. “The question has to be something we can test and something that’s measurable,” she noted. Fehr wants to make sure the students challenge themselves, too, and give the judges a thoroughly researched project. “If I think it’s too simplistic, I might push them to a new level without changing their topic too drastically,” she said.
As the school year rolls on, Fehr sets staggered deadlines for the students’ project contract, proposal, experimental design, data results, and conclusions. She also has a watch list to make sure all the children stay on track, saying, “We find a way to get everyone what they need.”
Ultimately, Fehr strives to pass along her enthusiasm to her students. “I want them to come away with a love of science and be excited about science,” she said. “I help them find and celebrate their strengths and to see themselves as future scientists or engineers.”