Science fair preparation as important as presentation

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TRAVELLERS REST — Preparing for a science fair can be as much a challenge as the development of the topic itself, something discovered by fifth-graders Alex Doyle and Declan Rockwell for their science fair at Greenfield Elementary School.

They had to discard their first idea of testing the regeneration of starfish limbs, inspired by a Spider-Man movie, due to problems of accessibility to the creatures at this time of year and the limited time they had to test the hypothesis.

After a bit of research online, Alex and Declan hit on the idea of electrical conductivity in water.

“I just thought it was really interesting that electricity could go through water, “ Alex explained of why they chose the project.

Then that ran into a glitch when the unsalted tap water they worked with gave a result that was supposed to work in salt water.

“We tried and tried, but it doesn’t work,” Declan described in the early stages of their efforts, but he was philosophic about the outcome.

“That’s what science is: it’s full of complications,” he decided.

“They ended up with a lot of questions that they had to answer,” said Alex’s mother, Virginia Doyle, but she thought it a useful exercise for them as they had to incorporate a water treatment system into their efforts.

“One experiment led to another,” she admitted, accepting that science often works that way.

The youngsters also tried bottled water before realizing that it had minerals in it as well. Their glitch led to using a filtration kit to try and purify the water.

One of the challenges for elementary students is the time some experiments take to complete, and Alex began to feel the weight of learning as their effort began to expand.

“With some science projects, you may start to feel that it may drag on and on. The water filtration was really slow,” he specified.

Added to their difficulties was the fact that the science fair is an extracurricular activity. They set up the equipment at Alex’s home, and Declan was only able to visit for short periods.

In the end, they decided they would continue with the conductivity idea, but incorporate the water filtration efforts into their outcome.

Virginia admitted that it was a challenge for them, but accepted their intention and helped them along as best she could.

The boys performed the experiments, created the drawings of their apparatus, wrote up the experiment typing with two fingers, and prepared the display board with the outline and conclusions.

After nearly a month of development, they were down to practicing their presentation, which is a challenging team exercise for two budding scientists eager to offer what they know and have learned.

Similar experiences are being played out across the province.

Greenfield and other schools organize the science fair every two years, alternating with a heritage fair, but the effort is similar for families at home.

The effort may explain why only seven or eight of the students in their class will be joining Alex and Declan at their science fair this Tuesday.

Participation is normally only offered to the grades 4 to 6 students. Nonetheless, Alex’s interest had him create a project when he was in Grade 3.

After the school fair, winners go on to the provincials, which will be held April 2 to 3 at the Chi-Wan Young Sports Centre at UPEI.

Winners from the provincials go on to the nationals, May 10 to 17, in Windsor, Ont.

“We want to go in there and show our best, to try to make it to provincials, but we don’t really care if we lose or win,” Declan said.

His identification of the problems of electrolytes and minerals in water is an indication that he is already a winner, even if he had previously been exposed to the terms by Gatorade marketing.

Alex, who expects to be the front man for the introduction and conclusion when they present to judges, found the need for filtration to be interesting, if a bit boring.

“It just came out drip by drip,” he lamented.

The effort did teach him that most tap water and bottled water are not completely “clean”, or at least clean enough for scientific experimentation, and he did learn about electrolytes and ions as part of his research.

If he were to extend his experimentation, he suggested using distilled water, but wanted to create it himself rather than just buying it.

As his mother had identified earlier, one experiment leads to another.

Organizations: Chi-Wan Young Sports Centre, Gatorade

Geographic location: Windsor

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