As we keep saying, a lot happens at The New Century School in the month of March, but perhaps no event is more anticipated than the annual Science Fair. This year’s presentation of projects by TNCS 3rd- through 8th-graders had to be done a little differently since we can’t gather en masse yet, but the projects themselves were no less remarkable for their creativity and all-around innovation.
The Science Fair is important, explains elementary and middle school science teacher Rob Brosius, because, “It’s challenging and rewarding. [Doing science experiments] teaches you how to approach any problem with a solution-oriented perspective.” Students made their presentations via Zoom, which Mr. Brosius painstakingly stitched together. This way, TNCS parents will be able to view all student projects and presentations at their leisure. Another benefit stemmed from this new approach—TNCS students were more relaxed as they presented and were able to really explain their experiments in a deeper way. You can sense their (well-earned) pride. They demonstrate a thorough understanding of the science underpinning the project as well as the process that got them to their conclusions—the Scientific Method.
Mr. B. said:
I am making sure that all students can present their research even if they have not completed their data collection and analysis. We have highlighted the importance of each step of the scientific method in relation to personal and group projects. I have tried to communicate the idea that even if your project does not prove your hypothesis, it can still be considered a valuable experiment.
When compiling all of the videos took longer than expected, Mr. B. made a preview video as well as a couple other Science Fair–related videos to keep parents in a state of eager anticipation.
Now, let’s get to the real deal!
Third and Fourth Grade Projects
These March-Mad Scientists were clearly inspired by their inventive hypotheses and pursued answers to their problems with tenacity and vim! Mr. B. says that he was very impressed with the 3rd- and 4th-grade projects.
The stand-out in this group was a project on Mask Effectiveness—very topical!
Sixth through Eighth-Grade Projects
The stand-out in this group was the project on Water Filtration.
As the independent and dependent variables varied, and the hypotheses were proved or disproved, in addition to following the tenets of study design, students also had to evaluate their work to determine how they could eliminate any confounders next time around.
As you can see, topics ran the gamut of scientific disciplines, from chemistry, biochemistry, physics, and biology to psychology, ecology, and economics, to robotics and engineering. These students are clearly mad for science, thanks in no small part to Mr. B.’s enthusiasm and commitment to the subject!
We leave you with these two words: Elephant. Toothpaste.
A lot happens at The New Century School in the month of March—no brackets needed—but perhaps no event is more anticipated than the annual Science Fair. This year’s projects by TNCS 4th- through 8th-graders were hand’s down the best yet, remarkable for their creativity and all-around innovation.
So, can a human kill a megalodon underwater?
These March-Mad Scientists were clearly inspired by their inventive hypotheses and pursued answers to their problems with tenacity and vim! TNCS Science teacher Nameeta Sharma deemed “the budding scientists with their proud presentations” a success and thanked families for taking out time to attend the event on March 13th.
An important part of Science Fair at TNCS is that students must present their projects to any interested party who approaches. They must demonstrate a thorough understanding of the science underpinning the project as well as the process that got them to their conclusions—the Scientific Method.
Parents and family members were invited to join as well as Kindergarteners and TNCS faculty and administrators! Head of School Shara Khon Duncan said, “I loved the enthusiasm with which the students shared their projects with their parents and visitors. You could tell that they were proud of their work!” Mrs. Sharma also remarked on the enthusiasm she saw in her students.
As the ice melted, the balls bounced, the mixtures mixed, in addition to following the tenets of the Scientific Method, students also had to evaluate their work to determine how they could eliminate any confounders next time around.
Of course all students worked diligently on their projects (and, thanks, TNCS—all work was done during school hours so they had no excuse not to!), but some projects stood out, whether for the idea itself, the artful presentation, or the enthusiasm of the budding scientist. Mrs. Sharma, who invoked Neil Degrasse Tyson, saying “The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it,” as the spirit of this year’s Science Fair, found these lines of inquiry to be quite interesting:
Does the rate of electrolysis increase with table salt or baking soda?
What is the specific heat of different liquids?
Which salt works best in melting snow (or ice)?
Which compound/salt would work well in an ice pack?
Which basketball (indoor or outdoor) bounces highest?
How does anxiety affect memory at different ages?
Does age of children affect the bacteria found in their hands?
Does music help in the growth of plants?
Does activated charcoal help in water filtration?
Which soap extracts the most DNA from a strawberry and a tomato?
Which vinegar dissolves eggshell fastest?
Topics ran the gamut of scientific disciplines, from chemistry, biochemistry, physics, and biology to psychology, ecology, and economics, to robotics and engineering. Immersed presents the visual highlights here, in alphabetical order.
Here is your rundown of all the exciting academic events that TNCS students have been participating in!
On March 7th, TNCS held its first annual spelling bee competition, that was open to 3rd-, 4th-, 5th-, 6th-, and 7th-graders, and participation was optional. The bee was divided into two cohorts: 3rd- through 5th-graders competing in one division and 6th- and 7th-graders in the second. will participate in a separate group. Organized by TNCS’s English Language Arts specialist, Ilia Madrazo, the bee was a fun and challenging competition, and TNCS students were thoroughly absorbed.
Three prize categories were up for grabs: The first-place winner would be presented with a $10 gift card for the Ozone Café, second place a $5 gift card, and the third-place winner would get a well-earned “high five” from the panel of esteemed judges. Students were given word lists well in advance to practice from, but participants were also asked to spell words they had not previewed.
The competition was stiff, and spelling went into far more rounds than the judges had been anticipating—a testament to how assiduously TNCS students prepared. Although each student was trying his or her hardest, the camaraderie among contestants was beautiful to see: Each speller got a high-five for successfully spelling a word or a kind word of support if a word took him or her down.
An example of a Round One word:
An example of a Round Two word:
. . . And so it went . . .
And then there were five (in the 3rd to 5th cohort)—all boys!
After about seven or so rounds, three students remained standing, and it was quite a cliff-hanger!
Ultimately, two students tied for first in the 3rd to 5th cohort, making five total winners, pictured below. Although sharing the actual word lists online is prohibited by copyright, we can tell you that the two tied for first in the 3rd to 5th cohort went through 12 total rounds, both ultimately choking on the word, “outrageous,” fittingly!
Here’s what the winners had to say about their achievements:
Said Mrs. Danyali: “There was so much pride and courage in the room as each participant did their very best. Great job to all!”
The day after the Spelling Bee, another first occurred—the TNCS Women Heroes Assembly, in honor of International Women’s Day. Elementary and Middle School girls gathered in the gymnasium for a circle with Head of School Alicia Danyali to talk about historical women figures who helped further women’s causes, what it was like to be a woman before women had certain rights, and to imagine their own futures and what they plan to contribute to the world.
Next up in this chock-full month was the second annual Math Kangaroo for Grades 1 through 7!
Stay tuned for more about how TNCS students fared this year against their national and international peers—the results are still pending. In the meantime, check out last year’s competition: Math Kangaroo 2017!
Always a big deal at TNCS, the 2018 Science Fair was an unqualified success, as the slide show below attests! From engineering and mechanics to chemistry, physics, and biology to even the social sciences, TNCS kindergarten through 7th-graders conducted their experiments and then presented to parent audiences throughout the third week of March.
Science guru Jon Wallace said, “When [TNCS students] enter high school, I think they are going to be ready to deal with high school sciences. The big drive this year was representing data. That’s something they are going to have to be very good at because when they get to 9th-grade biology, for example, they will be graphing data, whether it be a line graph, a bar graph, or whatever, and putting data into data tables, then interpreting that data.”
The top project for Mr. Wallace was Curly Hair versus Straight Hair: Light Absorption, which he found very interesting and unique. It’s a thoughtful question that even has evolutionary overtones—which type of hair allows for greater ultraviolet light penetration and is therefore less protective? “Mr. Wallace also appreciated the very engineering-oriented The Influence of Spoilers on the Downforce of Cars. “I feel like [that student] learned a whole lot about fluids through research about wing design. It’s neat to see kids get so into it.”
“I feel like overall we have gained something in being able to represent data. That was the main outcome I was looking for this year, in addition to following the Scientific Method, of course,” he said.
Finally, On March 19th, just before the epic snowstorm of Spring 2018 hit and Spring Break ensued, TNCS 3rd- and 4th-graders completed a service learning project as part of the TNCS core value of Service. Other TNCS divisions will also be completing service projects as the second half of the academic year winds out.
For the second year running, 3rd- and 4th-graders spent an hour with Baltimore City/Baltimore County Chapter Coordinator Fay Husted, “Ms. Fay,” from Project Linus to learn how to make blankets for sick and hospitalized children in need. See details from last year’s project, TNCS’s first time with Project Linus and Ms. Fay, here: TNCS Continues Annual Service to the Community with Project Linus. This project is annually organized by the TNCS Parent Council, headed up by Sakina Ligon.
The group was so motivated by the blanket-making that they ended up taking Mrs. Sharma’s Teacher’s Choice period to complete them that very day! See the beautiful results for yourself!
So there you have it. March blew in like a lion, and TNCS students roared with achievement, learning, spelling, calculating, doing, and helping!
At The New Century School, March means STEM Fair time! When STEM instructor Dan McGonigal joined TNCS back in 2014 (see post), what had been the annual Science Fair evolved into its current incarnation.
STEM Fair: Where Do They Get All That Energy?
This year, the theme was, indeed, Energy, and the boundaries were expanded so that students could choose to do a traditional experiment, demonstrate a scientific concept, or do an engineering project:
To do an experiment, students made a hypothesis and tested it, adhering rigorously to study design (i.e., they followed the Scientific Method).
To do a demonstration, the student demonstrated a physical principle related to energy (an example is what makes ice packs work). This required more research than the other types of projects.
To do an engineering project, students could engineer a solution to a problem or improve an existing technology and report on the engineering design process.
Offering more possibilities of types of projects, explained Mr. McGonigal, was so that students were able to adapt as they went along and “find a way to make it work.” In some cases, the type of project morphed as the student worked, resulting in some overlap—some experiments featured some demonstration elements and vice versa, for example. “It’s not really about perfection or getting everything precisely right,” he added. “There might be errors, there might be problems, it might not be beautiful—that’s the whole process of learning, to get better by doing these projects and presentations and to get thinking scientifically.” It was “controlled chaos”
They could come up with the idea for their project on their own, or they could derive inspiration from LiveBinders, ScienceBuddies, or another student-friendly website so long as the topic fulfilled two very important criteria: to be “feasible and interesting.” The work of doing the projects was completed in class, and most materials were obtained at school because Mr. McGonigal wanted this endeavor to be as student-driven (and hassle-free for parents) as possible. Apart from his ongoing guidance plus some parent volunteer support during class time, students did their own work, from choosing a topic, to testing their ideas, to reporting on the results. Although it created a bit of “controlled chaos,” in the classroom, “I am a big believer that children need to do their own work and learn from that experience,” said Mr. McGonigal.
Expectations were a little different for each type of project and for grade level. The 2nd- and 3rd-graders worked with a peer on the same topic, but each created his or her own display. The 4th-, 5th-, and 6th-graders worked completely independently. A third cohort of 1st- and 2nd-graders worked in groups on projects. Grading rubrics also differed, corresponding to grade level and type of project (experiment, demonstration, engineering).
Although Winter Storm Stella interrupted the scheduled date of the actual presentations, the STEM Fair proceeded on three separate days (you’ll note lots of red clothing on Math Kangaroo Competition Day as well as lots of green on St. Patrick’s Day), starting with the oldest group of students. Parents were instructed to circulate and ask questions: “The students have been practicing presenting to each other and to younger TNCS students so that they are experts in their fields,” said Mr. McGonigal.
Projects included “How to Make a Plane Invisible to Radar” in which the student tested uncontrolled variables against controlled variables in true experimental fashion involving flashlights, special equipment, and black paint. “I noticed the sleek design of the world’s fastest plane and wondered if the design had something to do with what made it so stealthy,” he said during a presentation to parents. “I tested three shapes made out of paper inside a black box to see which would refract the least lux and be less visible to radar: a cylinder, a U shape, and a W shape, and my hypothesis was correct—the cylinder refracted the least lux.”
The best part of this very sophisticated investigation? It just made him even more curious. “Next I want to find out if the color of the designs would necessarily impact the lux bouncing off. Why do they always use black? What would happen with white, or green, or red?” he asked.
“How to Make a Solar Oven” was a very popular project among all three divisions, chosen by multiple students to take on. Not only was the energy theme (and heat transfer, another recently explored STEM theme) addressed, but solar ovens have the potential to reduce hunger in developing countries as well as cook using renewable, sustainable energy, aspects that 21st-century-minded TNCS students evidently found very appealing. (Probably equally appealing was the promise of taking their ovens home to use for making s’mores and melting butter for popcorn, other extremely valuable features!)
Another popular project also incorporated solar power: “Bristle Bots” involved constructing an artistic robot. (And getting to don goggles and gloves like any card-carrying scientist should.)
But most students ventured out into uncharted territory and produced some very cool stuff. This slide show is captioned to help explain some of the work.
“I’m very proud of the work they produced. They worked really hard over the last 2 weeks, and they all became good problem solvers. It’s reflected on their project displays,” said Mr. McGonigal. Want to read about past years’ projects? Click for posts from 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016.
The annual Science Fair is always a highly anticipated event at The New Century School, and 2016 was no different! Last week, parents and students came out in droves to see what science experiments TNCS 2nd- through 5th-graders undertook and what they learned from their experimentation.
Headed up for the second year by STEM teacher Dan McGonigal, this year’s Science Fair had a slightly different focus than last year’s (read about Science Fair 2015 here). Explains Mr. McGonigal:
This year we focused on the Scientific Method as opposed to the Engineering Design Process like last year. The students selected their own testable question related to Physical Science. We focused on creating tests that used manipulated variables versus creating a demonstration of a science concept. For example, instead of showing what happens when you combine baking soda and vinegar, a predictable reaction, I encouraged students to compare the amount of gas released by baking soda and vinegar to Alka-Seltzer and water. Or, instead of building a potato clock, students were asked to compare the volts of different produce to see which would produce the greatest amount of voltage. This helps improve instruction to more closely match how scientists actually work.
Mr. McGonigal also shared a “prezi” to give parents and other Science Fair attendees a closer look into how he framed this year’s endeavors. An important point is that students were encouraged to follow their own interests rather than replicate standard Science Fair experiments. The thrust was to start with a question then follow what various avenues that question presented, always maintaining a logical next-step approach.
“We worked hard on our projects,” said Mr. McGonigal, “and the projects were 100% representative of the students’ own work. I did not correct, edit, or change the student’s work in any way, but they were guided to stay focused on their scientific thinking and reminded of certain measures to help create accurate, neat work, that would be valid. The instructional focus was on the thinking, not necessarily the content related to their projects.”
As always, Mr. McGonigal’s enthusiasm for science adds a special touch. “The results and feedback were very positive about the student’s work. We had a lot parents show up to support their student’s science education!”he said. One such parent (and TNCS Co-Founder), Jennifer Lawner, said, “Mr. McGonigal give a wonderful presentation to parents about the goals of the science fair. In particular he talked about how he did not do their work for them. For example, the write-ups are imperfect—he reminded them of the rules of punctuation and left them to write the work themselves. The students came up with testable questions, procedures for testing the questions, and reported on their data. There were flaws, but the date it was reported accurately. I was really impressed!”
TNCS lower elementary students also got a chance to see the projects and were given first-hand explanations by the older students. (Stay tuned for an upcoming post on the K/1st Science Fair!)
And the exploration will not end with the folding up of the three-paneled cardboard displays. As a result of their self-led science journeys, students will continue asking themselves, “What did I learn? What do I still wonder about?” for months to come.