Testing their hypotheses

February 16, 2019 GMT

SPEARFISH — Albert Einstein said, “To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science.” Young scientists from Spearfish Middle School Thursday showed the results of their questions at the annual science fair at the Donald E. Young Center at Black Hills State University.

“We challenge students to answer a question that they have always had. Everything in the world around us is science. So no matter what question that they have, we can turn it into a science fair project,” Leslie Wangeman, sixth-grade teacher, said. “This helps our scientists to identify how they see scientific concepts in their everyday lives.”

She explained that the science fair is vital to creating critical thinkers.

“Our scientists are not given a step-by-step procedure to follow,” Wangeman said. “They have to think critically for themselves to identify a question, then use the scientific method to create a solution. It also is a thematic unit, where students are required to write a paper, conduct research, collect data, create and analyze graphs. This supports many concepts taught in other subject areas. Scientists get a chance to present their findings in a professional setting to an authentic audience at BHSU.”

She said that what she enjoys most is when a scientist says that their project is too hard or that it is impossible for them to be able to perform the experiment.

“Then they reach out to mentors in the community and create a unique and creative experiment,” Wangeman said. “You see them working through the steps of the scientific method, being frustrated and staying determined to accomplish a goal.”

Mindy Capp, seventh-grade teacher, described that the students get to pick any idea that they are passionate about, which range from the correct inflation of their bike tires to protecting the environment from oil spills.

“The best part is seeing what they come up with and how excited they get to share their results with others,” she said. “I love watching them at the science fair explain their findings to the judges, and it makes me so proud! Students learn the importance of interviewing skills, sharing their amazing science inquiry with others, taking pride in themselves and their work, using lifelong skills such as getting dressed up, shaking hands, and communicating face-to-face.”

Topics in this year’s science fair included “Which type of bat helps to hit the farthest?”, “How does coordination help you with the Olympics?”, “Are people rigging carnival games?”, “Does the size of eggs matter?”, and more.

Seventh-grade teacher Dan Holben explained that in his classes, he starts the process in November with the question, “What are you interested in?” He then follows it up with the question, “What observations have you made about your interest that you are curious about?”

“With some time and research about their area of interest, the students turn that into a question that can be answered through their experiment. They then design that experiment, conduct that experiment, collect data and draw conclusions about their original question,” he said. “By this time it is mid- February, and they are ready to report their findings through their board and presentation. … The science fair is really a combination of most of the areas that they receive education in during a school day. Science, math, English, technology, and STEM. Many of the projects deal with physical fitness as well.”

Dr. Charles Lamb, BHSU professor of biology and chair of the science department, and organizer of the science fair, described that the freedom students have to think up the questions they’d like to ask and the experiments they need to undertake to answer those questions is important.

“It allows students to be creative, and inquisitive, and to think as scientists think. It’s always fun to see some of the clever projects students come up with,” he said, adding, “This is an important part of the middle school curriculum as it lets students experience what science really is. In addition to learning facts in their classes, they get to think scientifically and gain an appreciation for the value that science plays in how we see and understand the world around us.”

Lamb said he enjoys the eagerness of students to explain what they’ve done and what they learned from it.

“Some of the students have a real personal investment in their projects, and it’s fun to see them get to share that with our judges,” he said.

Lamb explained that he has been involved in the science fair since it started 23 years ago.

“I keep doing it because the science professors at BHSU and the science teachers at Spearfish Middle School share the desire to help middle school students experience what makes science so exciting and so important for their lives,” he said. “It’s an investment in the next generation of scientists, and in the level of science understanding in our community. And we are blessed with some terrific science teachers in our Spearfish schools, and I feel it’s important to help support them.”

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