Weather Forecast


25th Science Fair offers fun-filled night

Emma Schmidt, a seventh-grader at Bemidji Middle School, presents to her peers Friday her science project researching the effects of heat on non-reflective coating on eyeglass lenses. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

More than 500 students will participate in the 25th annual Bemidji Middle School Science Fair, to be held from 5-7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 10, at the school, 1910 Middle School Ave. N.W.

The projects are as unique and interesting as the students themselves and range across 14 topics, including computer science, botany, chemistry, behavioral and social sciences, among others. The public is invited to attend this free event.

Asking questions

BMS seventh-grader Nate Anderson took the science project required for his class as an opportunity to find out which gender can withstand cold temperatures longer, girls or boys.

Anderson said he often sees boys snowmobiling and shoveling snow more often than girls, so he expected boys could withstand the cold longer. He set up an experiment and studied five boys and five girls. He timed how long each person could stick their hand in a bucket of cold ice water.

"I learned the guys out snowmobiling and shoveling are usually cold while they are doing it," Anderson told his peers during an in-class project presentation last week. "The girls could withstand cold longer."

Emma Schmidt, also a seventh-grader at BMS, wanted to know more about her mother's profession, which she said involves working with eyeglass lenses. So Schmidt started a science project to learn about crazing, which refers to the small scratches that can appear on eyeglass lenses with non-reflective coating.

She wanted to know if heat affects the anti-reflective coating on the lenses. She set up an experiment where she placed coated lenses into several heated places, such as an oven, a car and hot steam. She learned the lenses crazed in the oven and the car.

"I learned from this experience that it's not a good idea to keep your lenses in a car in summer or winter. It causes the lenses to expand and break the coating," she told her peers in an in-class presentation last week.

While in-class science projects are required for all sixth-graders and most seventh-graders, it is not mandatory for all students to present their project at the BMS Science Fair. But many choose to do so.

Anderson said he chose to enter his project into the Science Fair because he entered last year and thought it was "a good experience."

Schmidt said she took first place at the science fair last year as a sixth-grader, so she wanted to enter a project again this year.

"I thought it was fun," she said. "I wanted to see what other people did for their experiments. I wanted to see a different range, not just in my class."

Both students agreed received extra credit for entering their projects was also a bonus.

Big event

This year the BMS Science Fair turns 25 years old. It was started in 1986 by the late science teacher Bob Schultz, who had a passion for teaching science. After Schultz died in 1991, a memorial plaque was made in his honor. Every year the "Bob Schultz Award" is given to the student with the best overall Science Fair project.

According to seventh-grade science teacher Mark Studer, the BMS Science Fair is one of the biggest Science Fairs in the state. More than 500 students participate and more than 1,000 people attend. Between 30 and 40 members from the community judge the projects.

On average, two dozen students choose to take their Science Fair project to the Northern Minnesota Regional Science Fair, which occurs in late February at Bemidji State University. Only seventh- and eighth-graders can enter their project into the regional fair.

"A student does not necessarily have to win at the middle school science fair, but if they enter into the regional fair and receive a purple ribbon, they go onto the state level," said eighth-grade science teacher Kurt Long Voelkner.

In the last few years roughly 10 students have advanced to the state science fair. At the state level, students have the chance to advance to the International Science Fair.

"Science Fair sparks some of these kids and may lead them into a science career, or to take certain classes in high school or college," Long Voelkner said.

Sixth-grade science teacher Pete Sullivan said he encourages students to choose a science fair project that relates to their parent's profession or their favorite hobby.

"Even sports-related projects can translate into physics," Studer said.

Sullivan said even simple projects can turn out to be good ones. He used the example of a student who experimented on the amount of sugar in cupcakes.

"She stayed up until midnight and came in with little cupcakes for 120 kids," he said. "She tested everyone in the Pod. Every cupcake was color-coded. Her worksheet survey questions were color-coded to match the cupcakes. It was meticulous."

Changing times

Since Sullivan, Studer and Long Voelkner started working with students on science fair projects, they have noticed changes through the years, particularly with technology.

"When we first started, we'd go down to the library to look for ideas. It would take forever," Sullivan said. "We used to spend a week down there to find three sources. Now I can say to students, 'Find three sources' and they come in the next day with pages and pages of sources."

Sullivan said he remembers when students would hand-make the lettering for the project boards.

"Now they are way passed that," he said. "Some of the kids are doing spreadsheets and graphs at home. It's amazing what they do."

Long Voelkner said even if students find their Science Fair project does not go as expected, the process is a learning experience.

"It would be nice if every kid had a project on how to cure cancer, but we're not going to get that," Long Voelkner said. "It's the process that is important. It's stating a problem and figuring how to solve it. If they can do that I think we're successful."

"Kids learn more from their failed efforts sometimes," Sullivan added. "So many things they learn we don't even end up grading."

Most of the sixth- and seventh-grade students who choose not to submit their presentation to the BMS Science Fair will still present their project in front of their peers in class.

"Whether they did a great project or a poor one, they all listen to everyone else's project," Studer said. "They talk about it. Every kid listens to at least 25 presentations. That, in itself, is a learning experience."

Challenges ahead

Sullivan, Studer and Long Voelkner took to heart what President Barack Obama said in his State of the Union speech last month.

"We need to teach our kids that it's not just the winner of the Super Bowl who deserves to be celebrated, but the winner of the science fair," Obama said in front of an audience who responded by standing and applauding his words.

But these teachers are also concerned about how reduced funding for public education and standardized testing will affect the Science Fair in the future.

"Every year we talk about almost having to shut this down because of the $2,000 it costs to put it on," Sullivan said. "Yet, one ticket to the Super Bowl is $3,000."

Studer said while the BMS Science Fair depends on extensive fundraising efforts, he believes the Science Fair is necessary.

"Ideally, it would be a line item thing in the budget for year after year, but it seems like every year we have to beg to make it happen," Long Voelkner said.

Last month the Minnesota Department of Education released the results of the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress Science Assessment. Only 43 percent of Minnesota's fourth-graders scored proficient in science.

Sullivan said more time is being spent in the classroom preparing students for testing.

"A few years ago, we were being judged on outcome-based learning. At that time the science fair was the No. 1 thing you could do in school," he said. "Well now when we have to pass this science test, it's the opposite. Science Fair is getting in the way of us scoring high on the test. And yet here Obama is talking about innovation, creativity and engineering, which is all science fair."

If you go

In honor of the fair's 25th anniversary, the school has added new activities, such as a paper airplane competition and a newspaper tower building competition. Concessions, sponsored by the BMS Parent-Teacher Organization, will be available.

From 5:30-7 p.m. the Science Fair projects will be open for public viewing in both BMS gymnasiums. At 7:30 p.m. an awards ceremony will take place in the cafeteria.