Student scientists show off at science fair |

Student scientists show off at science fair

Students crowded into the Jeremy Ranch Elementary School gymnasium. Amid the rows of science fair projects and the chattering students, fifth-graders London Saiki and Clara Stewart were beaming.

They had worked for more than a month on their experiment, which was designed to see if salt crystals or sugar crystals grow faster. Now that it was time to show the project off, it was the hard work was worth it.

"The funnest part was probably making the crystals and seeing how quickly they grew," Saiki said. "It was fun to look at them each day and see the difference."

The school held its science fair Thursday, Jan 22. Stacia Hoots, a parent who coordinated the fair, said 30 percent of the students did a personal project. Additionally, each kindergarten and first-grade class participated in a class project.

"When you look at it that way, 60 percent of our kids actually worked through the scientific method during this science fair period," Hoots said. "We’re really excited about that."

Though students in all grades participated, fifth-grade winners will go on to compete at the Park City School District Science Fair. It is a chance for them to demonstrate the progress they’ve made throughout their time at the school.

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"Students work through the scientific method each year, and fifth grade is kind of the culmination," Hoots said. "They need to show what they’ve learned. It’s a self-study kind of project, and it helps show them problem-solving skills and critical thinking: ‘I have a problem, so how do I solve it?’"

Hannah and Emma Smoak worked on a project to find out whether plants grow faster under natural sunlight or artificial sunlight. Their hypothesis was that natural sunlight would be better but were surprised to find that wasn’t the case. The plant under the sunlight grew 2.5 inches, while the one under artificial light grew three inches.

"We found out the artificial light is better because it’s more direct," Hannah Smoak said, adding that she enjoyed testing the hypothesis. "At the end of the day, the sun goes up and down. But artificial light doesn’t turn off unless you turn it off."

Saiki and Stewart’s hypothesis was also incorrect. They thought the salt crystals would be longer on the sides, while the sugar crystals would be shorter. But being proven wrong — learning something new along the way — was a fun part of the process, they said.

The actual act of growing the crystals was also fun. It included quite a bit of trial-and-error but that didn’t discourage them.

"We learned that it’s actually kind of harder than you would think to make sugar and salt crystals," Stewart said, smiling. "If you touch a crystal while they’re growing, it will stop growing and that ruins the accuracy of it."

Shawn Kuennen, principal at Jeremy Ranch, said it was fun to wander through the gym and see the projects.

"This is a wonderful thing," he said. "Every year, it gets bigger and better, and I think the quality of the projects is improving, as well."

What is most rewarding about the fair, he said, is that it makes it clear that children often see the world differently than adults. And that’s something schools need to work hard to foster.

"It’s all about being curious," Kuennen said. "I think maybe we lose our curiosity a bit as we mature. And the science fair formalizes the curiosity. If there’s a structure to it, that makes it more likely to be something that continues through a lifetime. It’s all about the scientific method and exposing them to that. It refines their curiosity."