Lindsay, an eighth-grader at The College School, explains her experiment to parents.

Youngsters perform experiments

College School fair encourages interest in science

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1:48 p.m., Jan. 26, 2012--Some students were nervous, quietly discussing their findings with judges, while others proudly invited any and all visitors to listen to the details of their experiment.  Regardless of whether they were shy, confident, or somewhere in between, on Jan. 19, two dozen students of The College School at the University of Delaware were able to demonstrate that they had a firm grasp of the scientific process during their school’s fifth annual science fair.

Lindsey, an eighth-grader, was eager to discuss her findings.  She explored whether using technology makes the day go faster.  To measure this, she gave her subjects three tasks.  During specific and identical time intervals, they were told to: solve a problem using technology, read a favorite book and sit in a room doing nothing.

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Following each task, they were asked to estimate how long the experiment lasted.  On average, the time spent using technology was estimated to be the shortest time, followed by reading and doing nothing. 

Although her results supported her hypothesis -- that technology would make the day go faster -- she was also able to draw another conclusion.  The subjects that used technology felt better because they were being productive.  She determined that using the mind made the time go faster, whether or not technology was used.

From this, Lindsey was able to experience, first-hand, the true value of a science experiment. Instead of just gaining knowledge from a book, she was able to study her results and incorporate flexible thinking -- the true sign of learning.

This is what inspired Mark Donhowe, a W.L. Gore and Associates employee, to serve as one of the impartial judges during the fair. “It is important for kids to develop the scientific interest and encourage them to learn the process," he said. "They may not know it, but learning to explain their findings can be a very important exercise in their future.”

Judges were asked to evaluate the displays on critical criteria -- Is the hypothesis clearly stated?  Does data appear to have been carefully collected? Did the student show whether their hypotheses was supported or contradicted?

The experiments were then ranked and the results shared with participants.  This in itself can be a learning experience, helping motivate students to improve.

“I got the same score for the last two years.  I’m really hoping to do better this year,” said one student with an enthusiastic grin. “I think I will.” 

“Our students begin participating in fifth or sixth grade,” explains Erin Donahue, graduate assistant and 5-6 grade teacher.  They pick a topic in September and develop a hypothesis.  Over a four-month period, they design their experiments, collect data and analysis their results.

The younger students receive step-by-step instructions, while the seventh and eighth graders require less guidance. In fact, the older students become role models, inspiring the younger ones with their creativity.”

The experiments this year covered a wide range of topics -- What is the most effective laundry stain remover? Does type of clothing affect a cheerleader’s performance? And do foods decompose faster in a covered or uncovered container?

While not all experiments offered practical applications, many did.  “One display explained how much quicker water came to a boil if you started with hot water, rather than cold.  I’ll have to remember that next time I make tea,” one mother shared, with a smile.

About The College School

The College School (TCS) is a specialized school within the University of Delaware’s College of Education and Human Development that supports children in grades 1-8 with learning differences. Teachers understand the issues faced by students struggling with learning, attention and/or mild social/emotional/behavioral issues and are dedicated to helping children become successful learners.

Classes for the 2012-2013 school year are forming now, however, students are accepted on a rolling basis, when space is available.  For more information, visit www.collegeschool.udel.edu.

Article by Alison Burris

Photos by Ambre Alexander

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