Science fair shows off project based learning

New Media Technology Charter School’s 2011 Science Fair was held on Wednesday night, where about 30 projects showed how students learn by doing.

Even the title of the “Fantastic Plastic” exhibit impressed some about the work of third-place winners Tamiyah McDowell, Yolonda Keys, Mardia Carter and Taheerah Ogelsby. They used milk and vinegar to try to make plastic, or something like it.

The group’s first try resulted in the plastic falling apart. When the second try was more successful, they decided to try it again, this time to make buttons.

They concluded that the casein in milk made plastic like substance, and they had their buttons in different shapes and colors on display to prove it to attendees. Those who picked them up saw a slight sheen on their fingertips because of the vinegar.

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Four judges evaluated the students’ understanding of what they did in their projects, a real-world connection to the work, and the steps of the scientific method, said Marcia Butler, who has been a judge several times.

Butler was impressed with how students collaborated together and kept focused on science.

“This could be the beginning of solving a real-life problem,” she said.

It’s a lesson that Nydirah Pollitt, an eighth-grader, also learned.

She could always see the importance of math and reading, and now she can see the role science plays as well.

Her group studied osmosis and diffusion by using products found at home, such as raisins, grapes and latex balloons. They found that the balloons were not affected by the phenomanon because the plastic isn’t permeable.

Working with food helped Nydirah see how science can be part of her life.

“A lot of these projects show how you use [science] in everyday purposes,” she said. “You don’t always have to go to a science lab or go to school.”

At the middle school-geared event, eighth-graders focuses on earth and physical sciences, while the seventh-graders brought life science into the mix as well, said Shirley Holman, the science teacher who organized the event.

She was surprised with how committed the students were to their projects.

Rachelle Wilkinson went to the science fair because her nephew, a student at the school, was showing his experiment. But she took the time to walk around and ask everyone what they had done.

The second-place project titled “Got Dirt?” was a standout for her. Gloria Sebastio and Brittany Fields examined soap and hand sanitizers to see which would grow more bacteria on its surface. They hypothesized it would be the hand sanitizer because soap is seen as a better way to cleaning hands. But their hypothesis was wrong.

Wilkinson saw that the students were knowledgeable about their topics and easily able to engage her in conversation.

“I’m a science junkie,” she said. “When I see young children challenging themselves, I’m impressed.”

The top honor of the night went to Mabelly Agustin, Ayanna McCain, Rashawna Samuels and Kayla Minor. Their project, “Who’s Your Daddy?”, illustrated how important blood typing is to identifying parentage and solving crimes.

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