Scientific method on display
The Tulare County Science and Engineering Fair is being held at the Sequoia Mall on Mooney in Visalia. Hundreds of exhibits were set up yesterday for judging, including 25 from elementary students in Porterville.
Each project reflects several weeks’ worth of work. Pride, mixed with relief, was felt by students who completed this individualized investigation, as well as the parents and teachers who supported them on their learning journey.
The eye-catching displays draw the attention of viewers, but it’s the appropriate application of scientific principles that earns these young scientists awards. Their colorful and inventive projects are open for public viewing starting today.
Should you decide to go check them out, be sure to vote for the “Community Choice Awards.” Each year I marvel at the in-depth science that can be found even in the youngest scientists projects. For example, which stimuli do paramecium — a single-celled, microscopic organism — respond to more readily, light or temperature?
Tomorrow, student sweepstakes winners will be interviewed by a panel of judges. Students will be asked to explain their experimental procedure. Judges will be looking for ways that students applied the knowledge they learned in their experiment to a real live situation.
For example, which orange juice has more vitamin C, the fresh squeezed variety or the kind made from concentrate? Does the caffeine in coffee or coke have a longer lasting effect and how do you measure that?
On Thursday evening, awards will be given to students who created winning projects. The hope is that by recognizing young scientist this will stimulate an interest in the sciences as a career option later on.
The scientific method is a process of studying and answering questions that’s used throughout students’ educational experience from first graders studying habitats to graduate students doing their master thesis projects. Marine biologists use it for sampling fish populations and researchers in the lab use it for product testing on mice.
Leila Burn’s first graders take habitat field trips where they collect data in mountain, pond and desert environments that they then graph and compare. These young scientists observe their surroundings and paint them using watercolor. They also measure air temperature and take soil samples from each site which are later graphed and compared.
Scientists must first and foremost be thinkers. They have to posit a question and attempt to research the answer. If one can’t be found, they hypothesize an outcome and design an experiment to test it. As they conduct the procedure, data is collected and analyzed in order to draw a conclusion.
While the statistical analysis of a graduate project is more sophisticated, both young and old scientists must design projects with measurable outcomes and control variables while experimenting. Planning, checking, summarizing and publishing results are all a part of the process. Student applicants for the county fair submit abstracts of their project just like career scientist do for the periodicals that publish their work.
The state standards for science are divided into four areas of study: Life science, physical science, earth science and investigative method. High school science classes often reflect these divisions by offering courses in biology, chemistry and geology. While the scientific method is a process used in all these arenas, it’s rarely taught as a separate subject.
The new common core standards which have been adopted require a greater integration of content areas. The research writing and statistical analysis of science fair projects draws on both English language arts standards as well as multiple skills in the area of math.
Science isn’t just for egg-headed nerds. We all need to comprehend the world around us and science fair projects are a fun way of gaining, organizing and conveying that knowledge. Come learn from a student by viewing the Tulare County Science Fair projects at the Sequoia Mall in Visalia this week.
Kristi McCracken, author of two children’s books and a long time teacher in the South Valley, can be reached at email@example.com.