Fair more than hypotheses, conclusions

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— Lisa Lorenz gathered her troops Wednesday morning to offer some guidance before sending them out to inspect a myriad of controlled variables, graphs and household pets.

Dozens of adults volunteered to judge the annual Steamboat Springs Middle School science fair.

Every sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade student at the school was required to turn in a science project, but they could choose not to enter their project in the science fair.

Students who displayed their work for the judges, however, received extra credit points.

Seventh-grader Courtney Adamo thought the academic boost was worth the extra effort.

"Almost all my class put something in the fair," Adamo said.

Her experiment tested people's reaction to color in advertising. She showed three sets of black-and-white, faded and bright-colored prints to her subjects. Her results demonstrated a preference for bright colors, something Adamo didn't expect.

The science fair gave her a chance to have ownership of her work rather than just reading about it in a textbook, she said.

Her classmates must have thought the same.

"There are some really cool projects," she said.

Every display received two evaluations. Judges based their scores on such qualities as originality and ingenuity, the display, the conclusion and students' oral presentation.

Abbey Lewis wanted to determine if brand or price drove consumers to buy products.

She polled 10 subjects for their preference for generic macaroni and cheese and Kraft macaroni and cheese or generic lemon-lime soda and Sprite.

Like the rest of the judges, Abe Walter questioned Adamo about her methods and how she arrived at her results.

Walter listened as she explained her indefinite conclusion, a result she could have avoided by testing more people and throwing in another variable, Adamo said.

"I'm not trying to put the heat on you," he said with a smile.

Stephen Bell had to wait a few minutes before a judge came to look at his project.

In the meantime, he studied his display so he could make a good impression with the judges. The seventh-grader put together a demonstration of different lasers.

He appreciated the opportunity to choose a topic that interested him, he said.

His research proved challenging, he said, when he couldn't find much information about laser beams. But he eventually learned more than he expected, Bell said, and it helped him to understand the subject better than by reading about it in a book.

Lorenz, an eighth-grade science teacher at the middle school, organized the science fair with the help of fellow science teacher George Weber.

The science fair remains popular with the students, whose projects not only teach them about science but also emphasize good writing and speaking skills.

Most of the students have never before stood before a stranger and explained their work.

That kind of experience, Lorenz said, gives them confidence.

The depth of projects has increased, Weber said, with advances in information gathering. Tools such as the Internet give them access to information that was not available to students 10 years ago.

Some of the volunteers brought strong backgrounds in science to their judging.

Chet Mills used his understanding of science to help Jake Dombrowski and Max Hamil better understand the results of their experiment.

The seventh-graders' projects measured the effects of sunlight on three mini-greenhouses.

Their efforts earned Mills' approval.

"You boys did really good work," he said.

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