National science fair a ‘great opportunity’

Peggy Revell

While the trio of local students who travelled to southern Ontario last month for the Canada-Wide Science Fair may not have placed in the competition, they still gained much insight and inspiration from the experience.
“If anybody had a chance to go, I’d tell them it’s a great opportunity and I would recommend it to anybody. It’s a lot of fun,” said J.W. Walker student Chelsey Skirten, who had won gold at the Sunset Country regional science fair back in April and the opportunity to travel to the national competition held in Peterborough from May 15-23.
Also competing in Peterborough was fellow J.W. Walker student Hailey Beaudry and Madison Bigelow from Ear Falls, who won silver and bronze, respectively, at the regional competition.
“I thought that the judging seemed to go by really fast,” recalled Skirten.
“It was just an experience to see what other people thought about your project and to see what the other projects were,” she added.
“Just getting to see the different projects that people have and learning what they had to put out and do for it—it was just neat.”
Skirten’s own project, “Feel the Pressure,” looked at how different genres of music affected blood pressure.
Beaudry’s project looked at how different solutions affected seeds while Bigelow’s compared the effectiveness of paper towel “picker-uppers.”
“When judges were done finding out about your project and before they leave, they [told] you more information about different ways you could improve, or different things you could have thought about or researched with your project,” noted Beaudry, referring to the learning experience that came from being able to compete at the national level against hundreds of other students.
“In the end, they actually gave you a sheet with suggestions on how to improve your project scientifically, and that was always good for ideas if you want to continue your project,” echoed Skirten.
Both said seeing what others have done has helped them think ahead for future projects, and that they hope to be making a return trip to the national competition next year.
“It was a phenomenal experience,” agreed J.W. Walker teacher Jody Bonner-Vickers, who travelled with the students to southern Ontario.
“People had told me about it but until you’re there, you really can’t understand what they’re talking about from an educational standpoint,” she noted.
“The science experiments were really amazing and listening to the kids talk about what they had done—some of them were really easy to understand, some of them were well beyond my understanding,” Bonner-Vickers admitted, noting some of the students competing had various research opportunities, including working on cures for cancer in a research lab.
“Some of the projects were really almost simple ideas, but they had done such a thorough job, and I looked at them and thought, ‘Wow!’” she recalled.
One girl, for instance, looked at how younger generations now are using their thumbs for texting and other tasks compared to before when people would dial with their index fingers.
This student took the idea even further with real world applications, such as what kind of maladies people would be dealing with because of the extended use of their thumb.
“It actually seems like a pretty simple idea, but she did a really through job with it and it was one of those ideas that was really interesting,” Bonner-Vickers said.
But students presenting their work was only a part of the whole week, she added, which also included activities and workshops, as well as tours of the area.
“I liked the whole experience,” enthused Beaudry. “We did a whole pile of different stuff.
“Went to some art galleries in the Peterborough area, and the zoo.”
For Beaudry, one of the fun things was how participants were trading pins with each other—she herself collected some 80 pins during her time there.
She also was amazed by much of the “green” inventions that were present, and which the fair sponsors showed participants, including cardboard pens that disintegrate into the ground and also have a seed in them so a new plant will grow.
“I liked the whole thing, but I really enjoyed going to the zoo and the art galleries were a lot of fun,” agreed Skirten.
“And one of the nights, we actually had a MuchMusic dance and that was a lot of fun.
“It was great.”
“They keep the week pretty full,” said Bonner-Vickers, citing a night on the town, Victoria Day festivities, and a ferry ride.
“Whoever organized it, it was just seamless,” she lauded. “It was unbelievable.”
The other aspect came in learning what sorts of opportunities are out there for youths who are interested in science, Bonner-Vickers added, such as applying for the Milset exchange to Europe or even trips to the Arctic and Antarctic.
“And all these scholarships are available for students—but we don’t know about these things,” she noted.
“So just going and seeing all the opportunities which are available for students was neat.”
Bonner-Vickers said they are planning to hold a regional science fair again next year, although the exact location has yet to be decided.
“And seeing [the national fair], it gave me a better ideas for this one,” she noted.
“Just outreaching—how can we get more involved in these project-based learning opportunities.”