Science goes on display at Orwell fair

ORWELL — Before the Christmas break, sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders at the Orwell Village School sent eggs flying, juiced carrots, concocted silly putty in plastic bags and subjected plants to the effects of acid rain.
It was all for the sake of science.
The school’s upper grades showed off the results of their research at a science fair that was the result of a seven-week project done with the help of four students from nearby Castleton State College. Orwell students worked on their projects for an hour each week — setting up their experiments, collecting and analyzing data, and drawing conclusions — which they presented to the rest of the school on Dec. 18.
Middle school math and science teacher Barbara Young said the fair gave students an opportunity to pursue their interests in a hands-on, scientific setting. 
“It really goes with the inquiry process,” she said. “Learning to investigate, coming up with a research question, collecting data and then following up. Then perhaps coming up with an additional question based on what they’ve learned.”
On that Thursday morning, the auditorium hummed with activity as students in kindergarten through fifth grade wandered between some 20 displays showing investigations into sheep wool, the amount of sugar in sweet potatoes and hamsters that memorized a route through a maze.
Near the front of the auditorium, sixth-graders Levi Ryan and Nathan Stone, both 12, stood next to their poster. For their experiment, Ryan and Stone tested materials for packaging eggs by wrapping them in a variety of packaging systems including rubber bands, cotton balls and bubble tape. The packaged eggs were attached to model cars and then launched off a jump. Each egg’s post-flight damage was rated on a scale of one (“perfecto”) to 10 (“scrambled eggs”).
After sending 10 eggs through the air, the pair stated their conclusion:
“Even just a little bit of bubble wrap was better than anything else,” Ryan said. “The others were completely destroyed.”
Rachel Orr is one of the four Castleton seniors in the college’s Student Science Association who helped the students design and complete their experiments. The 22-year-old Orwell native said the Science Association’smission was to connect with young people.
“Our mission this year was to inspire young people, and we thought this was the way to do it,” Orr said. “I love my community and it’s a small enough community that we could accommodate the needs of the entire middle school.”
Sixth-grade teacher Devin Schrock said the students have been working on ecology-based sciences such as food webs and water and carbon cycles. She said the work with Castleton students and the culminating science fair introduced her students to the standardized methods of scientific inquiry.
“They all pushed themselves to learn the scientific method and understand how an experiment happens,” she said. “The goal of the Castleton students was to get them to understand how to design and set up an experiment and then follow through.” 
ORWELL VILLAGE SCHOOL students Nathan Stone, left, and Lev Ryan talk about their egg launch experiment with fellow students during hte school’s recent science fair. Independent photo/Trent Campbell
Not knowing much about acid rain or where it came from, seventh-graders Savannah Desrocher and Cody LaDuc set about researching the phenomenon that affects large parts of the United States and Canada. Then they created a simulation in which they watered squares of plants with varying solutions of water, hydrogen peroxide and vinegar. The acidic solution killed one of the students’ plants as well as one of their teacher’s plants, which was located too close to the experiment.
The results, they agreed, indicated that acid rain is a threat not only to plants but the area around them.
“Farmers around here grow lots of plants like grass and wheat,” Desrocher said. “If we have acid rain from factories or other pollution the plants won’t be healthy.”
Working on the projects had an impact on the Castleton students as well. After his experience working with the Orwell students, Jacob Swane, a senior biology major, has decided to pursue science education.
“I was tossing around a couple ideas, but after this I’ve decided that I want to be a biology professor because I’ve had so much fun working with these kids,” he said.
Young, the Orwell science teacher, said the science fair would make an appearance next year.
“Some of the kids have asked if they’ll do it again next year,” she said. “I’ve said there’s no ‘if” about it, they’ll absolutely do it again. They’ve shown they can pick a topic, design an experiment and then come back with results.” 
Some students have already chosen their experiments for next year’s fair. After their foray into acid rain, Desrocher and LaDuc have decided to experiment with fruit and electricity.
“We’re going to use batteries and fruits and vegetables,” LaDuc said. “We want to see if the power will go through to light a light bulb.” 

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