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Sixth-grade teacher Robbie Tietge oversaw the science fair at North Shore Community School last week. Photo by Kris Lee.

NSCS science fair sparks young imaginations

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At the North Shore Community School science fair last week, there wasn’t a vinegar-and-baking-soda volcano in sight.

One sixth-grader’s project did include baking soda: the young baker tested how baking soda affects cookies. A boy just down the table from her in the Duluth Township school’s cafeteria experimented with hard candy, testing how the cooking temperature influenced the final results.

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Sarah Swartout, 12, used three horses in her experiment. “I really love horses and I wanted to do something horse-related,” Swartout said.

Using boxes, pictures and treats, Swartout tested whether the horses could recognize a picture of a carrot. Of the three horses she tested, Freddie and Coal were the stars of the show. They remembered the pictures and chose the correct box almost every time.

Corky, a miniature pony, wasn’t as successful.

“Corky had no interest in the boxes. She didn’t want to look at the boxes and didn’t try to find a treat,” she wrote in her conclusion.

Sixth-grade teacher Robbie Tietge said that the science projects give her students a chance to study a topic of their own choosing. She has final approval on all projects, but the kids get to pick them.

Tietge said the students had to present their projects in front of the class, and even those averse to public speaking impressed her with passionate demonstrations.

“They like talking about the things they like. I’m really proud of them,” she said.

The science fair wasn’t formally judged, but the students explained their projects to visiting parents and community members as well as National Honor Society members from Two Harbors High School.

A couple of tables away from Swartout, Jack Butler, 11, sat stoically in front of his poster board. He lit up when he talked about his project – crystals he grew inside of egg shells.

“I thought crystals were really cool and stuff,” Butler said, explaining why he chose his project.

He collects geodes, which are rocks with delicate crystal formations inside of them. He thought they were even cooler when he realized he could make them himself.

With a level of patience that 11 year olds don’t often display, Butler drilled a tiny hole in each end of two dozen eggs, drained out the innards and painstakingly sliced the shells in half. He then concocted a mineral solution to coat the shells and left them to grow crystals.

“My crystals turned out better than I thought,” he said, adding that they grew best in the basement of his home.

Though the projects are designed to teach students the scientific method, Tietge said they tie in Common Core standards, too. The sixth-graders learn how to conduct research, make a bibliography, prepare a classroom presentation, explain their projects and above all, how to ask a question and find an answer.

Konrad Kausch, 11, wanted to answer his question about how water travels. He used two glasses – one empty and one full of liquid – with a paper towel between them. He found out that the water would travel olong the paper towel from the full glass to the empty glass, without a drop spilling, until the glasses were equally full. It took about six hours.

Through his project he learned about adhesion, cohesion and capillary action.

“I just kind of wanted to do something with water,” Kausch said adding that his main concern was with frozen water since he plans to be a professional hockey player. Given his recent success as a junior scientist, however, perhaps he’ll keep a career in hydrology in mind, just in case his NHL plans don’t pan out.

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