Sunday, February 22, 2004

Sunburn, cell phones; science fairs reborn

By Anna Michael
The Cincinnati Enquirer

ANDERSON TWP. - A miniature volcano no longer causes an eruption among science fair judges.

Today, blue ribbons go to students who thoroughly test a research question or hypothesis, rather than those who build a model.

"We are trying to get students to test something," said Barry Riehle, an honors and advanced placement physics teacher at Turpin High School. "In high school we want them to test a lot of stuff. We expect high school kids to do more."

Riehle was one of the more than 200 judges at the Forest Hills School District science fair held Saturday at Nagel Middle School for about 450 first- through 12th-graders.

A teacher for 19 years, Riehle said this science fair was "pretty typical, though the kids did do a good job."

Riehle attributed the students' success to teachers allowing students the freedom to choose their own projects.

"You try to leave the door open," he said. "If kids find something that is interesting to them, then they are much more likely to do the research."

Maddux Elementary third-grader Haley Howe proved research is interesting when it is as fun as talking to friends and as easy as picking up the phone. The 8-year-old tested various cell phones around the city.

"It was fun testing," Haley said. "It helped us figure out what cell phone is best."

But what do you do if you are going on a Caribbean cruise and can't stay in the area to work on a project?

Catie Grace Naylor, 9, also a third-grader at Maddux, solved that problem with a little help from the sun. The scent of sunscreen wafted from Catie's booth, while pictures of sunburned skin hung on her project board. She giggled when she explained her mother's arms were the test subjects.

Beth Naylor, Catie's mother, said it was a good project for her daughter because it was simple and Catie was able to explain that sunscreen does, in fact, work.

"The teachers say do the best you can," Naylor said. "They like (the students) to participate."

Maddux Elementary second-graders and best friends Michael Eddes, 8, and Josh McDonald, 8, said they found their idea in a book.

"(We liked) the idea of floating a paper clip with a magnet," said Michael.

Julie Phillips, 13, and Jessica Hemingway, 13, eighth-graders at Nagel, said they did their project for extra credit, but "then it turned into a big thing."

The girls knew that because they were older, they were expected to have a more extensive project.

"They judge depending on what year (you are). For eighth grade you need plenty of explanation," Julie said.

"We push the envelope and nine out of 10 times when you raise the level of expectation, the students respond," Riehle said.


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