June 17, 2018
School & Youth
88° Scattered Clouds
  • Pictured in the Innovators Research Expo winners photo are Nadder Esfandiari from Belvedere Elementary (far right) and Helena Wolfe of Arnold Elementary (center).
    Photo courtesy of Anne Arundel County Public Schools
    Pictured in the Innovators Research Expo winners photo are Nadder Esfandiari from Belvedere Elementary (far right) and Helena Wolfe of Arnold Elementary (center).
  • Pictured in the Innovators Olympics winners photo are Caroline Pappas and Collin Kassal of Cape St. Claire Elementary (front row, to the right).
    Photo courtesy of Anne Arundel County Public Schools
    Pictured in the Innovators Olympics winners photo are Caroline Pappas and Collin Kassal of Cape St. Claire Elementary (front row, to the right).

Severna Park Students Shine At Revamped County Science Fair

Maya Pottiger
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June 8, 2018

This year, the annual county science fair featured a variety of changes, including a new name: the Innovators of Science & Engineering Challenge.

“In our district, we have a big emphasis on the 21st-century learning skills, which would be creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and communication,” said Kate Dobrzenski, a science resource teacher at Anne Arundel County Public Schools.

“When we did this revamping of the fair in this new portion of the event, we wanted to give students the opportunity to show not only their scientific knowledge,” Dobrzenski said, “but also their ability to think on their feet, be creative, use teamwork, communicate with each other and some of those bigger picture skills they’re going to need to be global citizens when they graduate.”

The Innovators of Science & Engineering Challenge, which was held May 9, consisted of two components: the Innovative Science Research Expo and the Innovators Olympics. The event was open to students in third through fifth grade.
The research expo showcased the more traditional science projects, and students were allowed to present their projects on laptops this year instead of strictly the tri-fold board.

The Innovators Olympics consisted of five 35-minute challenges that each represented an area of science: physics, engineering, life science, chemistry and a scientific argument. For this competition, students were allowed to compete in teams.

“We recognize that many students have a specific interest in science, and they will go down the avenue of the Innovative Science Research Expo,” said Valerie Wesner, coordinator of science for Anne Arundel County Public Schools. “But for those students who just have an interest in science or an interest in engineering, we wanted to provide an avenue for them, and that’s what the Olympics does.”

This year, roughly 60 schools participated, bringing a total of 350 students, Wesner said. Of the 350 students, about 100 of them competed in the Olympics.

Nadder Esfandiari, a fifth-grader at Belvedere Elementary, earned a number of awards: the Grade 5 STEM Award, the CTE Award and the Grade 5 Grand Prize.

“Nadder created a hydraulic elevator that actually worked,” said Michael Phelan, a fifth-grade teacher at Belvedere who is in charge of its science fair. “It was powered by a series of water-filled syringes and tubes. It was very impressive.”
Students at Arnold Elementary created a disability robot, an alarm system to relocate lost books and durable dog toys.

“The children are more interested in science because of the science fair,” said Nell Fastige, who worked with students at Arnold who went to the science fair. “They really feel a sense of accomplishment.”

Also fifth-graders at Belvedere, Ellie Eger and Erin Lawlor earned first-place rankings in three of the Olympic challenges: PlantaPalooza, Pasta Tower and Scientific Argumentation. The two were chosen to compete “due to their love of science, and their overall enthusiasm, and ability to work well together,” Phelan said.

“They really had to think on their feet,” Phelan said. “They didn't really have any way to prepare.”

In revamping the science fair, the hope was that students would be able to demonstrate the 21st century learning skills in addition to their scientific knowledge.

“It allowed them to apply their knowledge to a real-world application, and they thoroughly enjoyed it,” Wesner said. “I saw lots of smiles all the way around.”

Blake Schlaich, a fourth-grade teacher who leads the science department at Folger McKinsey Elementary School, said these competitions are important because they give students the chance to apply the knowledge and skills they’re learning in school to everyday scenarios.

“They get to be engineers and scientists by coming up with their own research questions, designing their own procedures, collecting and analyzing the data, and arriving at their own conclusions,” Schlaich said.

Dobrzenski said she wants students to start identifying themselves as scientists and engineers.

“A lot of times, students might think, ‘Oh, a scientist or an engineer looks like this, and that doesn’t look like what I look like,’” Dobrzenski said. “We want them to own that identity for themselves starting at a young age.”

For the full list of Innovative Science Research Expo winners, click here. For the full list of Innovators Olympics, click here.


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