Aspen students strut their science stuff |

Aspen students strut their science stuff

John ColsonAspen, CO Colorado
Mayor Mick Ireland talks with Nick Sweeney about his science fair experiment which explains how to obtain water from hydrogen, during the Science Fair and Expo on Wednesday at Aspen Elementary School. ( Jordan Curet/The Aspen Times)

ASPEN The Aspen Elementary School gymnasium was surrendered to controlled chaos Wednesday night.Tables were set up all across the wooden floor to make room for science projects that covered everything from the construction of two different styles of hovercraft to right-brain/left-brain experiments and everything in between.With City Council members and other local luminaries as judges, and with parents proudly standing by and kids bouncing from table to table to see what their friends had made, it was evidence of the importance placed on showing students that science can be fun.Julie Wille, the chief organizer of the Science Fair and Expo, was checking in judges when a man came up and asked what she wanted him to do, as he looked in on each of the entries he was to judge.After she had explained the rules of judging to him and showed him how to negotiate the categories and columns on his clipboard, he still looked somewhat uncertain. She told him he should challenge the kids to explain their projects their ideas in as clear a way as possible.Ask em really hard questions, she said with a smile. Make em sweat a little bit.The fair, for fourth-graders, was mandatory for all kids in that grade level. But the expo, for mostly third-graders, strictly was voluntary, meaning it was geared toward those kids interested in science on their own.Both were noncompetitive events every entrant received a certificate of participation, and some of those in the fourth-grade Fair had been entering science fairs since they were in the first-grade.Some of the projects obviously had been done with parental help of varying degrees, while some seemed to have come straight from a childs mind and hands.I think some of the cooler ones are the ones you can definitely tell the kids did, said Rich Burkley, a parent of one of the third graders.When asked if he felt the local school district was doing a good job of getting kids interested in science and mathematics, Burkley said, I think theyre asking the right questions, which is the key.One of the third-graders, Zach George, explained a project he and others had worked on titled Third Grade Gross Out, in which they monitored the school washrooms to determine if kids were washing their hands as much as they said they were, or as much as they should.We just wanted to find out if they just eat germs or if theyre washing their hands, he said.And their conclusion?They arent washing their hands, he said, noting that their research showed that only three kids out of more than 50 had actually washed their hands after using the rest rooms.Nearby, two partners named Olivia and Breezie (they werent there, and their last names werent inscribed on their experiment) proved that warm water melts sugar cubes more quickly than cold water, while Roman Mollicchi, also not present, built a working model of a volcano out of paper mach.Downstairs at the Science Fair for fourth-graders, Mikayla OCallaghan researched science experiments until she found one she thought was kind of cool. Using an old light switch from home, a battery from a toy and a few bits of wire (and with a little help from dad), she constructed a contraption that showed how electricity acts differently when it is put through media that have more or less resistance.Graham Houtsma conducted a survey of 96 of his fellow fourth-graders to determine whether there are more right-brain kids in his class than left-brainers. According to the parenting website, People who rely more heavily on the right half of their brain tend to be more imaginative and intuitive … the right brain is associated with artistic ability like singing, painting, writing poetry, etc. Left-brain dominated people tend to be more logical and analytical in their thinking and usually excel at mathematics and word skills. Houtsma learned, based on a quiz he found on the Internet and through using his own computer skills to interpolate the data, that there are more left-brain kids in his class, of either gender.Two of the fourth-graders, Hunter Bryant and Grayson Cidzik, built hovercraft using plywood and leaf-blowers. Bryants was circular in shape, while Cidziks was a rectangle, but both of them worked on the same principle using forced air to raise a platform off the floor and move about a room.And Katie Peshek discovered that the taste buds of people in differing age groups react differently to stimuli. Using bubble gum and a stop watch, with groups age nine years and younger, 10 to 39 and 40 and above, she determined that the 10-39 age group has the best taste buds, meaning they detected flavor in the bubblegum for longer periods of time, on average.Parents of the kids whose projects were entered in the Fair and Expo all agreed that the Aspen School District does a good job of getting kids interested in science and math.For example, differnt parents noted, there is Mr. G., the Science Guy, a teaching position funded by the Aspen Education Foundation to specifically focus on science education. Beyond that, there are the popular science fairs at the different schools, math specialist instructors that work with advanced learners as well as those in need of remedial help, and the experiential education classes that take students outside the school to learn how the world works, such as trips on the Colorado River to learn about riverine habitat, and tours of the ruins at Mesa Verde to learn how people in the American Southwest lived before the time of Christ.Our community has risen to the need, said Shereen Sarick, a parent with a degree in environmental education who volunteers at the Science Fair & Expo. I feel our particular school district is addressing the math and science needs of our students.Chris Peshek, a local physical therapist whose daughter experimented on taste buds, agreed.It seems to be more than I ever received when I was in school, Peshek said of the science and math his kids are learning. I dont think I ever knew anything about the scientific method until I was in high school, so to have my fourth grader come home and explain it to me, thats

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