“Since Sputnik, Science fairs have been around,” said Sister Dorothea Jurkowski, who in her 11 years at St. Stanislaus Kotska’s have seen 11 fairs come and go, has seen umpteen potatoes made into batteries, has seen chicken coops of eggs dropped from ledges, and has perused hundreds of poster boards proclaiming hundreds of hypotheses and conclusions.
At St. Stanislaus Kotska this year, projects asked “Is a permanent marker ever really permanent?,” “Can Spaghetti swim?” and presented findings on everything from “Sticky Balloons and Static Effect” and “How to Make a Dog Behave.” This year, against all odds, there were no baking soda volcanoes.
Since 1941 (before Sputnik), when the fairs were founded by a nonprofit seeking to bridge the still-problematic divide between current scientific findings and public knowledge, Science Fairs as we know them today have called on students to experiment, to present their findings, and to bite their nails as they await the call of a teacher who will dole out 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place ribbons for their efforts.
To evaluate projects, teachers who didn’t teach the students most heavily weighted how well students could explain their findings.
In this day and age, it’s too easy to get a lot of information off of the net. One project listed as its sources “Google.com, Wikipedia.com.” But others, of course, used the net to expand the possibilities of what they could test. “The computer helped me,” admitted Eryk Kozub whose report, “How Big Are Molecules?” would go on to win first prize for seventh grade. He had used the net to purchase a bottle of oleic acid—unavailable in neighborhood stores.
And then judges face the eternal problem of parents—how involved is too involved? “One year we made quicksand,” said Robert Pelc, a school dad. This year, his son did a project on Pirhanas so at Evolution, the SoHo store of nature oddities, he bought a dead, stuffed piranha. Fellow dad Phil Savery recalled how one of his daughters won a ribbon for her re-enactment of a tsunami on the term after the wave had washed over Thailand. It involved trundling in an aquarium full of water. “It was a hassle to bring it here,” he said. “But it was great.”
“It’s good that it gets the whole family involved,” Pelc said.
“When I was young I didn’t care about this as much,” agreed Savery. “Now I get into it and then when I’m explaining something to my daughter, I can see her eyes light up.”
On Tuesday evening, perusing the projects, parents were beaming. After names were called to announce a grade of winners, it was like a Miley Cyrus concert! The room would quake in applause. There were hoots.
But if a parent were to just glance around the room, it would be easy to see why the kids were so into this. Next week would be Earth Day; All around the walls student-drawn posters sported catchphrases such as one that proclaimed, “Love the Planet, Be Green!”
Over the next 99 years of these students’ lives, there will be a lot of work for scientific minds to do.
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