Geneva Academy students put science to the test this week during the school’s biannual science fair.
Students were challenged in September to choose an experiment to present to their classmates, teachers and four community judges. The assignment allowed three methods of experimentation: the traditional scientific method, a “Myth Busters” approach, and a category called “Improve the World,” where students analyze the best solution to a real-life problem.
Exhibits were wide-ranged. Eighth-grader Benjamin Boice compared and contrasted the distance and accuracy of mangonel and trebuchet catapults; Cole Chapin, a sixth-grader, tested the electrical conductivity of different fruits; and junior Kaitlyn Riley tested the consistency and pigmentation of homemade and store-bought oil paints.
“The most fun part of our science fair is watching the students explain their projects because they experience the pleasure of presenting the completion of months of hard effort on their part,” said sixth-grade teacher Lenny Lanterman. “The value of doing this is to guide children into more closely observing and exploring their world, and wondering and questioning what would happen if they changed something, and if they can get a certain outcome by that change.”
Students presented their hypothesis, materials, process and conclusions on Wednesday and Thursday. Experiments were graded as “superior” for outstanding work, “achievement” for very good work and “participant” for satisfactory work. Additional grand champion ribbons were awarded for exceptional projects.
Many, like eighth-grader Ali Wright, found their hypothesis to be incorrect. Wright tested multiple cleaners to determine the best solution to remove blood. Her theory was that bleach, being a strong chemical, would be the best solution to remove day-old synthetic blood from pieces of carpet. She found, however, that set-in cleanser worked the best.
In a similar experiment, sixth-grader Hudson Allen wanted to know the best way to remove a paint stain from carpet. He hypothesized that the strong chemicals in rubbing alcohol would break down the paint and make it easy to remove. But instead, he found that dish soap was most effective.
According to first-time judge and civil engineer Jennifer Sikes, what students might have seen as failures were perhaps their greatest lessons.
“Just because they’ve picked a project and tested a theory, even though it didn’t pan out the way they think it was supposed to, that doesn’t mean it was a failed project,” Sikes said. “That’s part of science. This might not be (the result) we expected, but we still learned stuff and we need to take that and move on to the next step.”
Local pediatrician and returning judge Beth Gallant was adamant that it is perfectly alright to fail.
“It is very important to fail. It is very important to think back critically, review what you have done, pick up the pieces and change your behavior so you can be successful,” Gallant said. “That spans all areas of learning, not just science.”
Eighth-grader Evan Chapin openly admitted that his first attempt was a failure. He tested the affects of honey on growing squash. Chapin had to scrap his first batch of honey water because it fermented. He refrigerated his second batch, which allowed him to conduct a much more successful experiment. Even so, his hypothesis that honey would help plants grow was incorrect.
“Don’t give your plants honey, it’s a bad idea,” Chapin concluded.
“It’s really easy to pick up a phone and Google something and you get a quick answer and it is instant gratification,” Gallant said. “What I want kids to do, and what is kind of the basis of science, is to think critically about the world around them and then figure out how to figure it out for themselves. When you do it you learn a lot more than when you Google it.”