Whether looking into fracking practices or studying how crystals are formed, science fairs continue to engage students. The familiar, even nostalgic, sight of this-or-that samples sitting in a petri dish, bold titles carefully written on posterboard, the scientific method in action, filled the gymnasiums and auditoriums of the elementary schools in the Park City School District (PCSD) over the month.
It is that time of year again, the time when students set out with a hypothesis and explore one subject in depth.
"A lot of times, kids may not have the opportunity to research their passion," said Gina Mason, the PCSD Gifted and Talented Coordinator. "This is an opportunity for them to do just that, an incentive for a third grader to learn more about what they want to. If they start in the third grade, even younger, they will continue into high school, become innovators in the future."
Kindergarten through fifth grade students participated. All four elementary schools held science fairs, with fifth graders able to move on the district science fair later this month. And participation at all levels, from the elementary schools to the middle, junior high and high school. Participation and interest are higher than any other year.
"Really, the country need scientists," said Brian McInverney, a volunteer judge for the science fairs and a hydrologist with National Weather Service. "You need to get kids jacked up about science, show them how interesting and cool it can be. This is the start.
"Science fairs have not changed. The topics may have changed a bit as we've evolved and started to acknowledge new ideas, but the scientific method has been solid. The kids are schooled on how to arrange the experiment ."
Make an observation. Ask a question. Create a hypothesis, a guess. Experiment. Analyze. Conclude. The steps have not changed, will not change in future science fairs. Trailside fourth graders Patrisha Schoenbacher and Malia Neal studied tornadoes, going so far as to build a small box where they replicated the process of how the storm is produced.
"We're interested in the high winds," Schoenbacher said. "We've seen tornado pictures and they are amazing."
"There has to be moist, warm air to have a tornado."
Another project that tested the difference adding salt, changing the density, of water would affect the buoyancy of an egg. Fifth-grader Pierce Dirkis, along with his two partners, were answering volunteer judges questions, explaining their methodology and their hypothesis.
"I liked how it showed how little differences can make a huge rebound on the experiment," Dirkis said, "a little bit of salt every time would make it float like an inch higher."
As the program continues to grow, more students than ever are getting involved. At Ecker Hill Middle School, the highest number of students to date have registered for the fair, a total of 71 children. For the first time, Park City High School students are participating, giving the district a chance to excel to higher competitive levels than before. Last year was the first year that the school district held a district fair, accommodating more students in secondary schools an opportunity to compete.
"It is exciting," Mason said. "I want to see this program grow We want to promote science, to have projects relate to real life and make learning more pertinent."