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From Mario Brothers to Squirrel Poop, Blowing Rock Students Show Off Their Exceptional Smarts

By David Rogers. November 21, 2014. BLOWING ROCK, NC — From wet cell batteries to homemade rainbows, from homemade lava lamps to maybe the future of desalinization, from what cooking method leaves behind the most vitamin-c to the differences between baking cookies with baking powder or baking soda — and so much more — there was a lot to learn at the annual Middle School Science Fair at Blowing Rock School on Friday.

COVER IMAGE: Lakin Bartok (right) explains her Wet Cell Batteries project to Watauga County Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Scott Elliott.

Chemistry, physics, biology, research and technology — there was something for just about everybody in the school library where each of the students had prepared poster presentations about their respective project. It was obvious that some of the students were more passionate about science than others.  And yet, when asked if they enjoyed doing their projects every single student told Blowing Rock News (while breaking into a big, beaming smile): “Yes!”

Riley Kiker and Daisy Coffey think folks in coastal communities are paying too much for de-salinization.

If anyone has any doubts about the future of our country, they just need to go to a middle school science fair and listen to a budding Einstein present his or her findings on whether a cell phone can be charged by the electrolytes in a potato, discuss the rate of oxidation in various metals using different liquids, or hold forth on how salt affects the melting time of ice.

Daniel Boone might have appreciated this skill.

These kids — make that, “emerging adults” — had to not only think about what hypothesis they wanted to prove or disprove, but then do the analysis, reach a conclusion, and present their findings. So really it was an interdisciplinary opportunity to show off not only science skills, but communication talents, too, whether visual, written or oral.

Some were simple, but some were fairly elaborate. Some students were shy at first, but warmed up with a little prompting. Some just started gushing out scientific lingo and jargon, it was enough to an old codger’s head spin — even resentful that he let a guidance counselor persuade him to NOT take advanced science and math in high school.

Several of the students looked at practical things.  The outdoorsman or rancher, for instance, might benefit from one fellow’s presentation on the “Science About Scat”: identifying what wildlife might be in the area by looking at their “poop.” Not the most appealing topic for most, probably, but Daniel Boone might have appreciated this skill.

Caillean Cooke started with an interesting question: Plants will grow taller using which kind of water, well water or water that has been “microwaved”.  Her hypothesis was that the plants given well water would do much better but, she said, the plants given the microwaved water actually grew three times as much. “My hypothesis was wrong,” she admitted to Blowing Rock News. “This information might be something farmers can use!”

It would take 300 potatoes to charge an iPhone.

Jack Kohout explored charging his iPhone with a potato.

Wanting to know whether he could charge his cell phone with a potato, Jack Kohout went to Lowe’s and Radio Shack to get the supplies he needed. It turned out that he couldn’t charge his iPhone 4S with a single potato, but the potato did generate enough energy to brighten an LED light. He told Blowing Rock News, “I think it would take about 300 potatoes to charge the iPhone.”

Think rainbows are beautiful? You might want to think of making one for yourself every day after talking to Skylynn Fickling. Her “Optical Illusion and Light in making a homemade rainbow” made homemade rainbows with glasses, water, a camera, paper, pencil and a flashlight.

Wondering about what kind of soil retains water the best, Katie O’Bryan also got a different answer than she expected. Her hypothesis was that soil (silt) will retain the most water because the water will go through clay too slowly and the water will go through sand too quickly.” In her abstract she wrote, “The purpose of my project was to find out which type of soil would retain the most water. The three types of soil I used were sand, silt and clay. I put the same amount of each soil in three different pots. I poured the same amount of water into each pot. I let them drain for four hours. After four hours I measured the amount of water in each collection cup. As a result, the sand retained the most water.”

It’s bad to play these games too much.

Charlie Dalton arguably had extra fun with his project, “How Do Different Distractions Affect Video Game Driving Times?”  That’s one way to truthfully say, “But Mom, I am doing my homework!” He successfully proved his hypothesis, that driving in a video game resulted in faster times.  Testing four different gamers’ driving in four different levels of distraction, Dalton showed that talking on a handheld cell phone, having an “interpersonal”, and reading/answering questions all slowed performance vs. having no distractions for all of the participants.

Yep. Even the Mario Bros. were a part of this Science Fair.

Speaking of driving, all of us that have watched a NASCAR race on TV and then driven to the store know that there is a tendency, maybe, to drive just a little faster and be just a little more bold. Along those lines, Abraham Bachman concluded that playing a driving-oriented video game can affect your real life driving. “It is bad to play too much of these games,” he said.

Katie Adele Thompson — who can also be seen at every Appalachian State volleyball home match at the Holmes Center where she serves as a “ball girl” volunteer — looked critically at how the cosmos flower thrives — or not — in different types of soil: Clay, Sand, Potting Soil and Mountain Soil. At the end of her three week test, seeds planted in what she identified as Mountain Soil performed the best.

Young Reagan Womack may want to sell her services to participants in the Blowing Rock Charity Horse Show next year. Her project on predicting the length of a horse’s stride by measuring not only the height of the horse but also the size of the shoulder’s angle not only won a first place ribbon in the Biology section of the Blowing Rock Science Fair, but was also recommended to become a Student Academy of Sciences” presentation.

Jerry Burns would have liked The Marble Project.

He didn’t think it would keep the deer away from that favorite garden, but Carson Dillman concluded that a homemade pesticide comprised of liquid soap, garlic, onions, and water kept bugs away and the plants stayed healthy.  So there may be something to that myth that vampires hate garlic, after all.

Recommended for the Student Academy of Sciences competition, Hailey Church’s “Why Do Eggs Float in Salt Water Not Fresh Water?”  She answered her question for Blowing Rock News by reporting, “This project is about density and gravity. Normal water is not as dense, so the egg sinks.  Add salt to water and it is denser, so the egg floats.”

Eden Arquette chose to study “Fresh Water Acidification” — and came away with a “Recommended for Student Academy of Sciences” award, showing how acid rain affects aquatic plants. “This experiment is very important,” she told Blowing Rock News, “because it shows how natural disasters like acid rain can affect the world.”

ASC_5060There were plenty of different and creative types of projects, from consumer products-oriented themes such as “What color of crayon melts the fastest?” and “What is the best tennis ball?  Former editor of The Blowing Rocket Jerry Burns would have liked David and Noah’s “The Marble Project.”

Jayme Greene posed the question, “Does water dilute dye?” She concluded to Blowing Rock News, “When you add water to dye it makes the dye lighter. You can use this in your life when doing your laundry or tie-dying T-shirts.” (with a knowing wink to a child of the 60s and 70s)

Molly Kirkland explains some of the intricacies of leavening bread.

Middle school student Molly Kirkland was enthusiastic about her Science Fair project, asking the question, “What leavening agent will cause bread to rise the most?”  She noted to Blowing Rock News, “I had a lot of fun. Getting the research together, analyzing everything and then presenting it.”

Riley Kiker and Daisy Coffey teamed up to prove that a specially constructed greenhouse — a much bigger scale than the one they used for their experiments — may be capable of inexpensively distilling pure water from salt water — thinking specifically of coastal communities with limited supplies of fresh water and how their greenhouse might satisfy a big need. Along the way they discovered that their 400-watt light on the greenhouse did not work, but that the sun did. “We think salt water can be cleaned with only the sun,” said Ms. Kiker.  “You shouldn’t have to spend a whole bunch of money. You just do it with a container like this.”

You shouldn’t have to spend a whole bunch of money.

Ms. Coffey added, “People on the coast have to pay lots of money for desalination to leave behind pure water. With our (solution), they could just get one of these and put it outside on their deck or something like that.”

These young chemists and physicists may have a lot of high school and college science courses in their future.  Ms. Kiker has her eye on being a veterinarian and Ms. Coffey wants to be an interior designer, both occupations that benefit from science backgrounds.

Today’s sixth graders are so far ahead in their education at this age than the generations that went before them, or at least it seemed like it on this day.

ASC_5041“Science is so important,” middle school student Lakin Bartok told Blowing Rock News while standing in front of her presentation on Wet Cell Batteries. “It is interesting to examine the things we see in the world and the things that we have gotten used to, but to also think about things that will revolutionize how we live.  Today, we think about how people way back when lived without cell phones and how crazy that sounds because they are so very much a part of our lives. But sometime in the future there will be a new invention — and probably a lot more — and those people will be thinking that it is crazy that we here in 2014 were having to live without those things that they take for granted.”

Science is so important.

Sixth grade language arts and science teacher Allyson McFalls was one of the chief organizers of the event. She explained to Blowing Rock News, “The students have all worked really hard on these projects, which of course incorporate the science aspects, but also require them to present their findings to others. It is a great opportunity for them to learn from one another.”





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