Students bring originality to science fair

Dec. 15, 2012 @ 11:55 PM

Sevierville Intermediate School (SIS) held its annual science fair for third, fourth and fifth graders Thursday in the school's gym, where over 100 decorated poster boards lined the walls.

This marked the third year the school's science fair was optional instead of mandatory. That means fewer entries, but Patty Jo Rawlings, SIS reading teacher and science fair coordinator, said the quality of entries did not decrease.

"Usually the kids that really want to do it will do it whether it's required or not," she said. "I'm thrilled to have over 100 projects from our school. We always have a very good showing at the county fair. The students work really hard and pour their all into it."

Judges Kerensa Archer, Kathy Hammer, Cindi Loveday and Tom Newman judged entries on how well the students employed the scientific method — traditional techniques for observing, measuring and experimenting phenomena to gain knowledge about a hypothesis or theory — in their projects.

"The biggest thing the judges are looking at, first and foremost, is that they've followed the scientific method," Rawlings said. "They have to know the scientific method for testing purposes."

It was also important that work for the project was done primarily by the student. While parent involvement is important in any form of education, Rawlings said, judges would not score favorably the projects that showed signs of heavy parent input.

"We encourage parent involvement and that's something that is important for our school," Rawlings said. It's also one reason the school participates in the science fair, because the projects are done at home and "this is one way the parents can be involved in the child's education and they can be doing something together," she said.

"It allows them to do things that are hands-on and explore things that we can't do in the classroom," Rawlings said. "It takes their learning outside the classroom and takes it one step further."

It was evident that the students were, indeed, using what they'd learned in the classroom. For example, one student used Petri dishes and cotton swabs to collect samples of bacteria from both human feet and rabbit paws. The question was whether human or bunny bacteria would grow faster. Answer: They grow at the same rate. (But the human feet samples looked "nastier and bigger than the bunny feet samples," according to the student's conclusion.)

Another whimsical project asked the age-old, yet under-researched question, which human foods do dogs like the most? The student tested peanut butter, eggs, lettuce, a raw potato and Cool Ranch Doritos. The hypothesis was that the dog would like the Doritos the best, but it turned out the dog most often went for the raw potato.

The above projects, while flawed in some ways, represent what science fairs are truly about: students using scientific techniques to observe questions that interest them, with the hope that they actually learn something on their own and have fun doing it.

"Any time kids can be involved, actively participating instead of just holding a book and pencil, it makes the process of learning much deeper," Rawlings said.

Students who placed first, second and third (along with a few honorable mentions) in each grade will advance to the county science fair held at Pigeon Forge Middle School in February.