By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Fairs part of year-long science program

“It used to be the about the only chance for younger kids to do science experiments, but now we teach the scientific process all year long,” said Tony Vicknair, director of secondary programs for the McMinnville school district.

Schools still host science fairs each spring, leading up to the districtwide Science Expo, which will be held May 3 at the Evergreen Space Museum. Students complete their projects after school, working at home with their parents to choose a topic, conduct an experiment and create a display.

“But now it’s like we have a science fair all year long,” Vicknair said.

Understanding science and being able to put the scientific method to use are among goals of the state standards. So using the scientific method is part of the regular routine.

It’s emphasized both during daily classes and the “science experience” field trips that take elementary and middle school students to the McMinnville water treatment plant, the Evergreen Space Museum, Miller Woods and other sites.

The trips, which are supported by grants from the McMinnville Education Foundation, always include opportunities for students to explore concepts hands-on. They may ride skateboards in order to learn about friction, for instance, or filter and treat dirty water to learn how drinking water is produced.

Developing a hypothesis, running an experiment, collecting data and communicating the results are all part of the process.

“We want them to be able to take that knowledge and be able to apply it, just like industry is going to want our graduates to be applying their knowledge for jobs that have not yet been invented,” Vicknair said.

Science fair projects offer youngsters a chance to use what they’ve been learning as they explore on their own. The projects also give them practice in generating questions, using a computer to make graphs and labels, and organizing information, said Brian Crain, principal of Wascher Elementary School in Lafayette.

Like other elementary and middle schools in the McMinnville School District, Wascher held a buildingwide science fair this month. Projects were judged and winning students will display their work at a district science expo.

For the first time, Crain said, creating a science fair project was required for all fourth- and fifth-graders at Wascher this year, and optional for K through third-grade students. The result was the biggest turnout since he became principal at the school — close to 150 projects displayed in the gym for parents to see Wednesday night.

Visitors watched a video of Nick Barnes demonstrating the trebuchet he and his father built, reviewed Elyse Patterson’s data about which type of ball has the greatest rebound (a ping-pong ball on hard surfaces, a tennis ball on carpet), and joined Michael Brungardt in wondering why the paper airplane he folded from the thickest paper flew the farthest, while the thinnest one went the second farthest.

They looked at incredible floating eggs, explorations of why leaves turn colors in the fall, an experiment using red cabbage to detect the presence of an acid or a base, and several projects demonstrating what happens when you drop a sugary candy into a bottle of soda.

Washer student Brittany Arendt decided to examine at the three states of matter — liquid, gas and solid — for her project.

The second-grader gathered up her supplies, an empty bottle, a balloon, some vinegar and some baking soda. She poured vinegar (the liquid) into the bottle and spooned some baking soda (the solid) into the balloon, then stretched the lip of the balloon over the top of the bottle. When she lifted the balloon upright, baking soda fell into the vinegar and caused a reaction.

“It made carbon dioxide,” Brittany said, naming the gas she had created. “It blew up the balloon.”

This was her second science fair. As a kindergartner, she displayed her seashell collection.

“I like the science fair and I like school,” Brittany said. “Number one, I like to learn.”

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