Wowser! Blowing Rock sixth graders show off intriguing array of science projects

Wowser! Blowing Rock sixth graders show off intriguing array of science projects
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Iris Westerman and Hayleigh Nunes’ project looked at the potential for solar panels on the roof(s) of Blowing Rock School.

By David Rogers. November 21, 2017. BLOWING ROCK, NC —  Is there a brand of drinking water that does a better job of growing plants? Which disposable diaper REALLY does a better job of absorbing “liquids?” What kind of tomatoes travel better in bulk? How much salt is needed to prevent freezing? If solar panels were put on top of all Blowing Rock School roofs, how much energy could be produced and how much money would it save? What happens when you use different kinds of sugar to cook brownies?  Which kind of soft drink is a better cleaning agent for a rusty nail?

The stars were out in Blowing Rock on Tuesday, and they had nothing to do with the movies, dancing, football quarterbacks or basketball point guards.  These were the 43 sixth grade students at Blowing Rock School who have spent the last 13 weeks studying science.  The 2017 6th Grade Science Fair was their interdisciplinary stage, a chance to show off all of what they had learned about a specific topic — and then some.

Their projects were assigned to different scientific classifications (biology, chemistry, physics, applied technology, etc.), but often required a dash of mathematics or understanding a different scientific discipline than their main classification. And to communicate their findings to the rest of the world — including parents, teachers, fellow students, and a news reporter — they had to master some communications skills, too, organizing their project processes, integrating visuals and text, and talking about the project while answering questions.

Charlie Burgess, right, explains some of his research findings to a fellow Blowing Rock student.

The practical applications for their scientific research are many and varied. Based on his study of 10 Blowing Rock households, Andrew Hill calculates that there is an enormous amount of recyclables, food, compost material and outright trash being produced in Watauga County. Charlie Burgess and Sam Cooke studied how effective common soil is in filtering water and detergent for clarity and pH levels, which could have significant implications for the protection of the High Country’s underground aquifers (Operation Medicine Cabinet is looking at this very issue with its drug take-back program).

Kayla Graham determined that Viva, not Bounty is the most absorbent paper towel, with Scott brand towels far behind, even beaten by the Food Lion store brand.

Ever wonder if those TV advertisements are true?  Well, Kayla Graham tested the absorbency of some leading paper towels, discovering that Viva towels were actually the most absorbent.

Back in the day, so to speak, the diaper market was dominated by big squares of cotton fabric, fashioned into a triangle of sorts, and fastened together at strategic places on a baby’s behind by safety pins.  And then came along the invention of disposable diapers that Moms and Dads around the world can just throw away after one use AND come with the added features of absorbency and “self-sealing.”  Katie Durham wondered about which ones actually lived up to the claim as most absorbent, and noted to Blowing Rock News, “It’s Pampers, hands down.”

Will Kirkland, left, and Bennett Brown talk about tomatoes

Will Kirkland’s parents own a produce distribution company, so Will is exposed to all kinds of issues and problems when he helps out around the warehouse.  He and classmate Bennett Brown wondered, “What type of tomato did a better job of withstanding the rigors of shipping in bulk?”  Will shared with Blowing Rock News, “Heirloom tomatoes are good eating, but when you ship them in bulk, there is a lot of spoilage.  Cherry and grape tomatoes hold up the best when shipped.”

Living in the High Country where we sometimes have a lot of snow, Collin Anderson and Grant Troyer had an interesting question: “How many grams of salt does it take in water so that it doesn’t freeze in freezing temperatures?.”  One of the few projects that was nominated for the Student Academy of Sciences Competition, Anderson and Troyer’s project could lead to better management of salt products on snowy or icy roads.

Why WOULDN’T you make Brownies with Brown Sugar?

Culinary arts didn’t get neglected at the 2017 Science Fair. Addie Thompson concluded that cookies made with Crisco were “taller”, while those made with butter had a wider diameter. Chloe and Dori evaluated brownies made with three different types of sugar: granulated, brown, and powdered. Katy Barker examined the effects of changing the types of flour (all-purpose, self-rising, whole wheat) used in baking cookies.

If you ever wondered whether that bottled water you are drinking might stunt your growth, Micah Duval’s project examined four popular brands of bottled water for their pH levels, and then also observed plant growth as a result of using those different waters. He has not received any offers for commercial endorsement yet, but plants watered with Smartwater did best, with plants growing the tallest and with the greatest number of leaves. Watering with Essentia resulted in the shortest plants.  Dasani-watered plants had the lowest number of leaves. And Fiji water offered the lowest growth rates in both height and leaf count.  Micah’s project was also nominated for the Student Academy of Sciences Competition.

Neither Iris Westerman nor Hayleigh Nunes were present, but they had one of the most professional looking and better organized projects, at least visually, and for folks interested in the whole concept of “sustainability,” it was one of the more interesting.  It posed the question, “What is the potential of solar panels on Blowing Rock School’s roof?  The questions addressed were comprehensive: How many solar panels would fit? How much energy would they produce? How much would they cost? Would they meet the school’s energy needs?

Morgan Henry hasn’t lost his marbles, after all. The 1-inch plastic has greater mass, so fell down the track the fastest.

His greatest scientific curiosities lie within the realm of physics, so Morgan Henry’s project wondered whether a wooden or plastic marble would roll down a track the fastest. His hypothesis that the plastic 1-inch marble would go down the track faster than the 1/2-inch wooden marble proved correct. His rationale was that it had more mass. He told Blowing Rock News that he has read a lot about Sir Isaac Newton.

Because she plans to plant a small garden and is worried about the environment, Abbey Noble explored the impact of acid rain on plant grown and her effort was rewarded with a nomination to the Student Academy of Sciences Competition — even though her hypothesis proved wrong. At the outset, she surmised that a plant watered with acid rain water would die within a week and a half. Instead, the plant died within just five days.

This is just a sampling of the very interesting science projects conceived and executed by the 6th grade students at Blowing Rock School.  When all was said and done, every student in the school’s Media Center was anxious to be interviewed by Blowing Rock News, not so much because it delayed their having to go back to class, but because they were genuinely excited about the work they had accomplished and wanted to share it with the world.

Blue, red, and white ribbons were awarded for first, second and third place projects. A select few were nominated for the Students Academy of Sciences Competition.

While these projects were completed as part of Allyson McFalls’ sixth grade science class, the competition aspect featured a panel of judges, including:

  • Sue Purser, a retired high school biology teacher
  • Mary Jo Pritchard, retired middle school science teacher
  • Nancy Bray, retired middle school and high school science teacher
  • Rob Smith, Blowing Rock School Digital Learning Coach
  • Liz Tincher, Blowing Rock School 7th/8th grade science teacher
Some projects had highly personal motivations.

McFalls explained to Blowing Rock News that while the projects focused on a science topic, the projects themselves emphasized the interdisciplinary aspects.

“They have to tie all of the math and science together,” she said, “and then communicate their findings in both oral and written formats, and a lot of the written part is in using these visuals and slides.”


Judging Criteria for Science Projects

I.  Research Question (10 pts)

  • clear and focused purpose
  • identifies contribution to field of study
  • testable using scientific methods

II.  Design and Methodology (15 pts)

  • well designed plan and data collection methods
  • variables and controls defined, appropriate and complete

III.  Execution:   Data Collection, Analysis and Interpretation(20 pts)

  • systematic data collection and analysis
  • reproducibility of results
  • appropriate application of mathematical and statistical methods
  • sufficient data collected to support interpretation and  conclusions

IV.  Creativity (20 pts)

  • project demonstrates significant creativity in one or more of the above criteria

V.    Presentation  (35 pts)

a. Poster  10 pts)

  • logical organization of material
  • clarity of graphics and legends
  • supporting documentation displayed

b. Interview (25 pts)

  • clear, concise, thoughtful responses to questions
  • understanding of basic science relevant to project
  • understanding interpretation and limitations of results and conclusions
  • degree of independence in conducting project
  • recognition of potential impact in science, society and/or economics
  • quality of ideas for further research
  • for team projects, contributions to and understanding of project by all members

SLIDESHOW By David Rogers for Blowing Rock News

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