Students put science to the test

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Caitlin Mahanna isn't sure whether she'll ever fly through a giant tube in a free-wheeling car, but she had fun coming up with the idea, which is the inspiration behind her science project: "Engineering a Roller Coaster."

"I tried to think of a unique idea," the Hayden Middle School eighth-grader said. "I like amusement parks and roller coasters, so I thought I'd design one that doesn't exist yet. Who knows? Maybe someday it will."

Caitlin is among the eighth-graders who put hypotheses and scientific methods to the test in projects that most have been working on since last fall. The students revealed their findings in elaborate exhibits Friday.

There wasn't a single gurgling volcano among this bunch of students, whose projects included subjects such as relieving bloat in cattle and earthworms' effect on plant growth.

"They have to be at least middle school-level or higher," said science teacher Greg Richards, who has made the projects an annual requirement for 15 years.

Students must write essays about their experiments and demonstrate their methods in models or exhibits.

"We've actually finally gotten kids to reach out to the community for help," Richards said.

Scott Price, who works with Hayden Public Works Department, helped student Jacob Magee explore the best environments for ciliates, which are single-cell organisms that eat bacteria.

"It was a lot harder than I thought it would be," Jacob said, adding that it was difficult to set up and monitor the different environments, as well as observe and count organisms.

He found that ciliates thrive in warm water with sunlight.

Price also assisted Kylee Sweetser, who wanted to know how water affected copper and lead. For five weeks, Kylee observed changes in the metals with well and tap water.

Even though the results were inconsistent and constantly changed, "it was a lot of fun," she said.

A group of 10 teachers and community members judged the projects. The top six will head to a competition in Fort Collins. All projects will be on display during parent-teacher conferences today and Thursday.

-- To reach Tamera Manzanares, call 871-4204 or e-mail tmanzanares@steamboatpilot.com

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