Why? How? What? Students asking questions of earth and body in Milan



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SCIENCE FAIR: Fifth grader Kayleigh Eastman wanted to find out how decomposition worked for her science project at Milan Village School. She presented her findings at the science night on April 14, and earned first place of the fifth grade students. Sally Manikian. (click for larger version)
March 04, 2009
MILAN — How does trash decompose? What is the affect of acid rain on plants? Who has stronger short-term memory, girls or guys? These are the questions posed, solved, and presented by the fifth and sixth grade class of the Milan Village School at their Science night on April 14.

The science fair night was directly tied to the state science curriculum (GLE), said Principal Dave Backler. The formulation of a hypothesis, an experiment testing the hypothesis, and a final conclusion, is the scientific method that the curriculum aims to teach. "It's posed as a question," he said.

The students picked a hypothesis on the area of study their grade was focusing on: earth sciences for the fifth grade and the body for the sixth grade. After selecting a question, the students spent the next two months developing experiments to test their hypothesis, culminating in a final presentation of their findings to a panel of judges.

The presentations are dynamic, involving props, interactive powerpoint presentations, video, and sound. Students used the new state of the art "smart boards," a mix of computer technology and old-fashioned writing boards. Out of the 29 students, there were four top experiments in each grade.

A child's curiosity is evident in the wide variety of subjects chosen, from acid rain to geological movement of rocks to genetic questions of heredity. Nathan Dandeneau, who came in third in the fifth grade, chose to study the effects of acid rain, inspired by his sister's work with Fish and Game. Sadie Glover, placing third in the sixth grade, wanted to figure out how a friend with blue eyes could have brown-eyed parents.

"I figured out that if both parents have brown eyes, when someone in the prior generation has blue eyes then it could be passed on," she said. Tracing back her friend's geneology, she found a great-grandparent with blue eyes. She then applied her analysis to a family member who is expecting a baby, and is predicting brown eyes.

When asked what she'd change, Sadie would broaden her study to include multiple colors, and possibly how one could end up with two different colored eyes.

Probably the most scandalous experiment was sixth grader Nick Wheeler's study of memory that won him first place of his grade. Nick chose to answer the question: who has the stronger short-term memory: boys or girls?

The test he developed and the sample he did, he admits, were not perfect. He gave a set of six men and six women (a mix of adults and children) a set of random words in order, then assigned them another task to solve, then asked them to place the words in order again.

Who had the strongest memory? The men. But following comments from participants that they did not properly understand the questions, Nick noted in his final presentation that his study was not infallible.

The students clearly enjoyed the process of the experiments: Nathan caring for his plants every day, Sadie figuring out where the blue eyes came from, and Nick enjoyed learning more about his peers and adults as they grappled with his experiment.

The final results for the two grades were: Fifth grade: 1-Kayleigh Eastman, 2-Cullen Fortier, 3-Nathan Dandeneau, 4- Joshua Downing. Sixth grade 1-Nick Wheeler, 2-Cathleen Daniels, 3-Sadie Glover, 4-Amanda Shute.

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