Gilpin County School Science Fair

Budding Einsteins and Edisons explore the world of science

by Patty Unruh

For inquiring minds that want to know, there was much to discover at Gilpin County School’s science fair, held February 21. For instance, soda pop does not make an efficient stain remover. Your rocket car will probably not run well on champagne, but it might on vinegar and baking soda. If you want M&M’s that will melt under a heat lamp and not in your hand, try blue ones – they release a tantalizing aroma and give people the impression that you’re baking cookies. In addition to these helpful hints, you could get a recipe for quicksand, which should come in handy when dealing with those pesky door-to-door salespeople.

Like scientists throughout history, students from kindergarten through eighth grade combined curiosity and creativity with the scientific process to find answers to questions about the world around them. Sharon Lutes, coordinator of the science fair, said there were 150 projects entered, which was a new record. The students were well prepared, knowledgeable, and enthusiastic about their exhibits. Most of the youngsters did their projects independently, with little adult assistance.

The two overall winners at the fair were Rachel Schmalz, middle school winner, and Alicia Johnson, elementary winner. Rachel won for her experiment on sunlight and vitamin C, and Alicia for her experiment on soda pop stains. Additionally, each grade had first, second, and third place winners, and all students received certificates for participating. The exhibits were judged in the morning, with public viewing held in the afternoon prior to winners being announced.

The purposes of the fair were to stimulate student interest in all fields of science, to give the students an opportunity to learn first-hand the process of scientific investigation, to allow students to present and discuss their findings with other students, teachers, and scientists in the community, and to recognize and reward outstanding student thinking, research and presentation.

The youngsters began work on their projects right after Christmas vacation. Students in first, third, fourth, and fifth grades were required to participate; students in the other grades were given a choice of whether to do so. Students from the Montessori program participated as well. The school provided handbooks and display boards to assist the students, who worked during class time and at home on their projects. Aerodynamics, botany, chemistry, space, weather, zoology – any topic was acceptable, as long as the scientific method was followed.

The scientific method involves stating a problem or question about what was investigated; giving a hypothesis, or prediction, of the outcome; listing materials used for the investigation; showing what steps were used; displaying data in a chart, table or graph format; writing the results; and giving a conclusion showing whether the data supported the hypothesis and what the student learned. The children were encouraged to use lettering that was easy to read, with large, simple headings.

Each student needed an adult sponsor, such as their science teacher or a parent. Teachers and parents were to provide guidance and support, with the goal of facilitating the children as they worked on their own.

There were about 24 judges at the fair – also a record this year. Each student was required to present to three judges, orally and with their display boards. The students were judged on how well they presented their projects and on how well they followed the scientific method. Older children were judged more strictly than those in the younger grades. The maximum number of points a student could earn was 16. The scores were tallied by a committee of teachers and aides.

There were so many projects that the judges were encouraged to spend no more than ten minutes examining each exhibit before moving on to the next one. The judges were not allowed to judge their own child’s project or that of another child that they knew well.

One of the judges, Gary King, who had majored in microbiology while in college, said the experience was enjoyable. “The hardest part of judging was doing it according to age. I asked each student what they knew about the scientific method. Some knew it very well, some didn’t.”

Undoubtedly, many advances will be made in household conveniences and technological improvements by these young scientists, who investigated such questions as: “After you have hot sauce, what can you use to cool your mouth down?” “Which brand of popcorn leaves the fewest kernels un-popped?” “Can you train a plant to grow through a maze?” “How much will my puppy grow in four weeks?” “How will positive and negative words affect plant growth?”

One student asked a particularly piercing question (“Who took my candy?”), and proceeded with the five steps of crime scene investigation, complete with fingerprint data. The culprit in “The Case of the Missing Gumballs” was the youngster’s own dad!

On a serious note, a project entitled “Congenital Heart Defects” sought to educate people with information on this medical condition. The child presenting the project had a sister who had been born with CHD, so the interest was quite personal. “There is no cure,” the young scientist advised, “but it can be fixed so the heart works better.”

Rachel Schmalz, middle school overall winner, pondered whether sunlight would affect the amount of vitamin C in orange juice. Her experiment showed that vitamin C decreases with sun exposure.

Fifth grader Alicia Johnson, who won the overall prize for the elementary school with her project on soda pop stains, said, “I heard rumors on the Internet and from grown-ups that Coke could remove stains on clothes.” She proceeded to test several kinds of soda for their stain-removing powers and found that the sodas only removed about five percent of the stains.

Logan Prewitt, also a fifth grader, used a robot he built himself from a kit he received for Christmas as the inspiration for his “Robot Buddy” project. Logan tested the robot to see how many candies it could lift. The robot lifted 25 Lemon Heads, a few more than Logan hypothesized. “I love building Legos, so I decided to build this robot just like a Lego set. I had a blast,” he enthused.

At the close of the fair, elementary principal Lisa Schell presented the awards, thanking the parents for their support and the judges for their invaluable work. Schell said, “The judges were impressed by the detail of the projects, the students’ understanding, and their oral presentations. Schell especially thanked Sharon Lutes for her leadership and organization of the fair.

Blaise Pascal…George Washington Carver…Johannes Kepler…Gregor Mendel…They all began as curious kids. Be watching, for someday a Gilpin student’s name might be on this list of “Who’s Who” in the world of science.

Winners of science fair prizes


1st place – Cooper Poirier

2nd place – Aiden Zeilbeck

First grade:

1st place – Aucklynn Sacco

2nd place – Lynda Icenogle

3rd place (tie) – Sasha Sonsino and Lili Cope

Second grade:

1st place – Abigail Smith

2nd place – Zach Gebhart

3rd place – Sarah Lovett

Third grade:

1st place – Amadeus Judson

2nd place – Cassidy Wood

3rd place – Madison Altman

Fourth grade:

1st place – Jessi Duncan

2nd place – Kristen Hardman

3rd place (tie) – Tristan Braning and Dallas LeBeau

Fifth grade:

1st place – Alicia Johnson (also overall elementary winner) 2nd place (tie) – Logan Prewitt and Devin Shirk 3rd place (tie) – Nicole Adams and Samantha Smith

Middle school (7th and 8th grade):

1st place – Rachel Schmalz (also overall MS winner) 2nd place – Austin Boulter 3rd place – Jada Gohdes

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