Students experiment with interest-based projects at North Star AcademyJan 27, 2022 12:34PM ● By Jet Burnham
Seventh-graders at Northstar Academy proudly display their science fair projects which were based on topics of personal interest. (Photo courtesy of Jamie VanLeuven.)
By Jet Burnham | [email protected]
To keep students invested in an assignment that spans four months, they need to have a personal connection to it, said seventh grade science teacher Monette McKinnell.
“In order for our learners to develop intrinsic motivation, they need to see that it relates to them and that they relate to it and the only way to do that is to get them to do science with what they're interested in,” she said.
Beginning in September, North Star Academy seventh-graders began brainstorming lists of their interests and problems they want to solve. Then they researched topics, wrote a research paper and began to formulate solutions. From there, they created a way to test their theory and developed a science fair project and presentation.
The result was a variety of science fair projects that the students were invested in.
Nery Hamon had been hearing about gel polish online and was curious if it was better than standard nail polish. For her project, she compared several products for their quality of polish, dry time, ease of use, and safety.
Antonia Quigley based her project on her love of cooking; she tested yeast alternatives.
“I’ve only ever had yeast bread before so it was a good experience for me,” she said.
Blakley Perry bakes cookies nearly every week, using her grandma’s cookie recipe. For her project, she made the recipe with six different types of flours and rated them on how fluffy, light and chewy they turned out. Through the experimentation, she discovered that she likes the results produced by almond flour and plans to try it in other recipes.
One student tested for the ideal tire pressure on mountain bikes, another for which material is best for baseballs.
Caden Herrscher, who plays competition soccer, prepared various tests to determine the ideal inflation pressure for soccer balls.
“I’ve loved soccer since I was a little kid, and this just seemed really interesting because I always inflate my ball to too high a psi or too low psi and I just wanted to find the best,” he said. When tested for bounce, distance and dribbling, he found the ideal pressure to be 11.5 psi.
Some projects explored the effects of music or video games on physical or emotional health. Others designed their projects around their pets or their personal habits.
Research was a time-consuming part of the project. However, because learning to write a research paper is part of the language arts standards for seventh grade, students had support from both science and language arts teachers.
Shaylie Slagowski collected a lot of research on types of foam used in bike helmets for her research paper, which helped her narrow her science project to the two most common to run through durability testing. She said it was fun to have the help of her family members as she dropped and smashed helmets.
McKinnell was pleased with the students’ projects. At the science fair, they showed how they had learned to verbalize ideas and exhibit visual and written versions of their work. She was glad to see their enthusiasm and hoped it helped her students identify the relevance of science and its connection to their daily activities.
“One of the challenges we have in science is helping our learners find the relevance and what we're learning at school to their real life,” she said. “That disconnect often inhibits their learning and their growth. If we can help them to develop the sense of science is part of their world and the world around them, then it'll help open them up to see things differently, to be able to look at the world they live in and wonder ‘what if?’ and to recognize that they can make change in the world that they live in.”