Friday, 6 March 2015

Glendale At the Central Alberta Science Fair...


We are excited to feature 6 science fair projects at the Central Alberta Science Fair 2015! Nine middle school students were chosen to put their projects on display at Bower Mall this year:
  • The Science of Perfume- Dawsyn and Brooke
  • Tap vs. Bottled Water- Brianna and Destiney
  • Fresh and Salt Water Fish Comparison- Emerald and Karmann
  • The Science of Fear- Kaitlyn
  • What Are the Secondary Causes of Lung Cancer? Brittney
  • Do Preferences Bias Our Choices? Kianna
 Science fairs offer the opportunity for participants to explore the scientific process or method through an engaging topic of their choice. Participants have made good use of the Science Buddies website during our projects that involved kids from grades 5-8 and even a few division one kids! Plans to expand the Glendale Science Fair experience to even more kids are already in place for next year.

We are very proud of each one of our students who have dedicated a good part of their weekend to represent Glendale in such a mature and committed way. As I walked around the displays on Friday evening I witnessed them interacting with other students, parents, judges and the general public with the utmost of maturity and composure.
In the realm of competency based learning, the list of learning elements these kids have gained experience with is a long one:

  • Knowing how to learn:
    • As students prepared their entry for our local science fair at the school, they went through the scientific process and planned their projects with the guidance of the Science Buddies website
    •  Several drafts, mistakes and redirections later they came up with what they believed was a final project to present. Then, once their project was chosen to represent at the Central Alberta Science Fair, they went at it again and re-tooled their projects once more!
    • Students conducted various types of research within their projects using online and published information. They also dove into both primary and secondary types of data depending on the nature of their topic.
    • Students came up with their own topics, and interestingly enough, ones that weren't related to specific curriculum from their grade level. This indicates an authentic interest in the scientific domain
  • Thinking critically:
    •  Students has to formulate a strong guiding question, and then be able to think clearly about approaches to answering it. Critical thinking is the ability to think clearly and rationally. It includes the ability to engage in reflective and independent thinking. Someone with critical thinking skills is able to do the following :
      • understand the logical connections between ideas
      • identify, construct and evaluate arguments
      • detect inconsistencies and common mistakes in reasoning
      • solve problems systematically
      • identify the relevance and importance of ideas
      • reflect on the justification of one's own beliefs and values
As they tracked their way through their projects, in order to answer their guiding questions in as definitive a manner as possible, each student or pair of students had to learn how to connect ideas and analyze variables within their projects so they could posit a position or argument (hypothesis) about what they were attempting to prove scientifically. They had to loop back several times to extract flaws in their experimental design that would diminish the validity and reliability of their results. They had to get organized and be systematic about their process and learn how to filter out nefarious influences and irrelevant data (a process that sometimes feels akin to getting 1 cup of water out of Niagara Falls.) Finally they had to generate a requisite degree of confidence that their finding and conclusions were relevant enough to confidently put out to a public audience... a hard and anxiety inducing action that they have jumped forward to accomplish. 
  • Identifying and solving complex problems:
    •  Each of the topical areas of interest obviously represent our students' ability to identify complex problems in need of solutions.
      • The Science of Perfume- Dawsyn and Brooke
        • We often do things to ourselves in the name of "beauty" that aren't necessarily good for us or in some cases, even safe. This topic addresses a very complex social science issue; what we're willing to do to ourselves in the name of vanity.
      • Tap vs. Bottled Water- Brianna and Destiney
        • Clean drinking water is perhaps the most pressing scientific issue facing contemporary science and humanity... water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink.
      • Fresh and Salt Water Fish Comparison- Emerald and Karmann
        • Food supplies are a global concern, as are farm raised vs. natural food sources. Water ecosystems, whether salt or fresh, need to be able to sustain healthy life. To help them thrive, we need to fully understand the way aquatic animals interact with their biological, chemical and physical environment.
      • The Science of Fear- Kaitlyn
        • Fear can lead to lots of debilitating social, emotional and psychological conditions that diminish our ability to be fully functional, rational and well-adjusted people. Perhaps if we can understand fear better we could reduce the strain on society in the social and health services... two major expenses for governments everywhere.
      • What Are the Secondary Causes of Lung Cancer? Brittney
        • The health related issues surrounding the habit of smoking is another major financial drain on the social and health services in contemporary society. If we can figure out how to reduce this cost to society, perhaps we could reallocate funds toward other diseases.
      • Do Preferences Bias Our Choices? Kianna
        • We all have choices, but we don't always make good ones. Making bad ones often leads to stress, anxiety and less than optimal conditions related to quality of life and well-being. Learning how to make good, objective choices for the common good is a social imperative
  • Managing information:
    •  Each of these complex topics involves a great deal of data and information that requires the development of a good set of filters. The projects provided students with ample opportunities to refine their skills in dealing with the litany of data and information floating around out there.
  • Innovating:
    • in·no·vate
      [in-uh-veyt]
      VERB (USED WITHOUT OBJECT) [IN·NO·VAT·ED, IN·NO·VAT·ING.]
      1. to introduce something new; make changes in anything established.  
Each of our students works with their topics for the first time; everything was new to them, and I'm sure to a large degree a bit scary to tackle, but they went forth anyways to try to solve the issue, or at least become more attuned to it in order to continue learning more about it... that's the spirit of innovation!
  •  Creating Opportunities:
    •  ...For learning, for interacting with knowledge and information, to learn about something new, to extend understanding that will likely lead to other quantum opportunities in other science related content areas, to be proud of themselves (self esteem grows when we feel we've done well and we have opportunities to share what we've done well with others,) to have fun... the lsit goes on and on once again!
  • Applying Multiple Literacy's:
    •  Reading, writing, integrating technology, presenting information in different ways, working with math (numeracy, graphing, comparing, analyzing etc.), speaking, explaining, teaching... the list goes on and on.
  • Demonstrating good communication and working cooperatively:
    •  Each student had to work through their own process... learn how to approach their topic from their personal perspective, and then take the next steps toward working collaboratively with a partner (if they had one) and others, (researchers and other scientists who have studied and published their findings on the same topics, primary and secondary data sources, a public audience etc.) in order to present a project with clarity and confidence.
  • Demonstrating global and cultural understanding:
    •  It was interesting how many topic choices included cultural issues... the culture of choice, fear, vanity etc. It is obvious that our students understand that science in so many ways leads on the edge of society and culture, and how imperative it is for us to create a purpose for science that supports a better and more viable world for all living things.
  • Identifying and applying career and life skills:
    • I asked all of our students about their career aspirations while I was browsing the displays Friday evening, and it was interesting how many of them has given some thought to how their topic of choice related to a career they have been thinking about pursuing, or in other cases, how their topic exposed them to career possibilities they may not have been aware of prior to participating in the science fair.
    • Of course it goes without saying that the work done by students under each competency heading mentioned above is a pure example of the sorts of learning experiences that help kids identify and apply career and life skills... the work they've done to become more marketable as mature, responsible, productive and knowledgeable workers in the future is rather obvious.
So another science fair season is nearly complete, and even if none of our Glendale students moves to the next level of competition, it is so apparent that the experience has been a stellar one for all of them in the context of their growth and development as learners for life. There is another opportunity for our Glendale students to refine their projects though. I want to mention that an outlet worth exploring for some of our older students, (the competition is open to 13-18 year olds, so some of our 7th grade and our 8th grade students are eligible,) is the online Google Science Fair. Any 13 or 14 year old student interested in this learning opportunity should speak with their science teacher soon as the deadline for submission is May 19, 2015.

Congratulations to each of the participating students this weekend and good luck with the judging! We are very proud of you and the outstanding ways you are representing Glendale!