First science fair deemed a successful experiment

 The hydraulics experiment developed by Sam Martinez (left) and Charlie Peters drew an interested crowd during the first fourth-grade science fair Thursday at Hillsboro Elementary school. The robotic arm was able to pick up not only the aluminum water container but a 1-inch-by-2-inch eraser. Perhaps the biggest exper?i?ment on display at the first Hills?boro Elementary School fourth-grade science fair last Thursday afternoon was the science fair itself.

Classroom teachers Maura Wiebe, Mike Jilka and Rod Just recruited student teacher Rachel Alberti to organize the event that would involve 46 inquiring minds.

?Mrs. Wiebe actually came up with the concept,? said Alberti, who graduated from Tabor College last spring but is completing her student teaching hours this fall.

Wiebe said organizing a science fair was one way to integrate multiple disciplines into a single project and meet the state?s college and career readiness standards.

?It was kind of a collaboration between Mr. Jilka, who teaches language arts for fourth grade, I do all the fourth-grade reading and Mr. Just does all the fourth-grade science,? Wiebe said.

?I decided to move a few of my reading units around so they matched with science, and Mr. Jilka is doing science-related things in terms of writing in his class,? she added. ?So we thought this would be a good culminating activity in that field.?

 Dana Maxfield snaps a photo of herself with daughter Katherine and Jovi, the family dog. Jovi was one of three animals tested for heart rate. Helping Katherine with the experiment were Macy Priest and Shaylynn Vogt. As for organizing it, Alberti said Wiebe told her, ?You should try to do this because you?re the student teacher. We?ve never done a science fair before?go have at it and decide how it goes.?

?So I did.?

The result was an energetic exhibition of projects and reports.

Students formed teams of one to three students. Their topics ranged from the use of hydraulics to power a robot arm, to a comparison of heart rates between mammals and birds, to the comparative effect of freezing temperatures on water and vinegar.

?I based the whole thing off of the scientific method,? Alberti said about the project guidelines. ?We worked through the steps as we created our projects. So we just took it a step at a time.?

For the record, the scientific method involves six steps: ask a question; observe; form a hypothesis; experiment; collect and analyze data; draw a conclusion.

?Basically, I tried to guide them to (questions) they could actually form experiments with,? Alberti said.

That was a challenge in itself.

 Grant Evans (left) and Evan Dalke wanted to find out what happens when you freeze vinegar. They hypothesized that water expands more when it?s frozen than vinegar does. Their experiments proved them to be right. ?I had somebody who had a question about why it rains on Neptune,? Alberti cited as an example. ?She was going to investigate this, and I said, ?Yeah, you can do that, but you could do an experiment about rain, period.?

?So she made it rain in a jar.?

The fair was open from 2:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. Parents, as well as students from other grades, were invited to visit.

Alberti said she was pleased with the way the fourth-graders responded to the challenge. Even a casual observer could feel a high energy level in the two classrooms during the event itself.

?A lot of the kids really took off with this,? Alberti said. ?They were really excited about this the whole time.?

She was told fourth-graders who participate in the Walking School Bus program were talking about their experiments as they walked to school.

Wiebe also was pleased with the inaugural event.

?I think it went really well,? she said. ?Parents were excited about it, and kids were even more excited about doing something like this because it?s just more meaningful. The subject matter they learn from textbooks and from the teachers can be applied in a project like this.?

Wiebe said it?s likely the science fair will return next year.

?I think we?d like to tweak a little bit in terms of the grouping and maybe it?s a project that should last longer than two weeks,? she said.

?I think it was a good experience. We?ll probably do it again.?

Did the experience affect Alberti?s plans to pursue a teaching career?

?I think it keeps me at about the same level,? she said. ?This is fun. Lots of hair-pulling, but at the same time real exciting.?

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