Science Fair–Part 1

Wow – It surprises me each and every year how hectic the end of the KU semester is; everyone is sleep-deprived and a bit punchy, including me! I have a couple of posts to catch up on.

Last Thursday, my students continued doing background research for their science fair projects. Mrs. Reno has figured out a nice way of getting each student to contribute to the group of four that tackle experiments together. Each student writes down 24 relevant facts that pertain to their research question. The way that “relevant” research is enforced is to require them to each make a hypothesis about what they think will happen when they do the experiment. The hypothesis layout is If….Then….and Because. For example, “If I attach three paper clips to my paper airplane, then it will fly faster because the additional mass requires the plane to fly at a higher velocity to create enough lift to stay in the air.” The “Because” part of the hypothesis is supposed to come directly from their research. This method, although conceptually rigorous, is variably successful with the research teams. Many still do not do relevant research, and as a consequence, have rambling, circular hypotheses. The most difficult task I had last week was to try to get them to understand what makes a good hypothesis without accidentally giving them the answer to their problem!

Aside from the research, one brief conversation I had with a student impressed me more than any other yet this year. I was chatting to a new student in the class who I noticed had amazing calligraphy on his binder. I told him that he was good enough to work in professional design. He said that he wanted to go to college to be a tattoo artist. I asked where he would like to open a business, thinking that he would certainly choose somewhere far away from the depressed neighborhood around the school. To my surprise, he said that he wanted “to stay in the hood, and try to make a difference for the people that lived there”. What wonderful, grand hope from a 7th grader. I wish we all could think a little more like him.

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About Sarah Roels

I'm a former Ph.D. student at the University of Kansas in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department. I study mating system evolution in plants, using the model system Mimulus. I now work at Michigan State University as their GK-12 project manager.
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