RBEMS science expo showcases talent, promise

Sixth-grader Sara Tingey recently absorbed three life lessons while successfully completing her first-place science project at Robinson Barracks Elementary/Middle School  — that there’s strength in numbers, looks can be deceiving, and making mistakes is part of the learning process.

In Tingey’s project, “Strength in Numbers,” she explored how much weight a flat toothpick versus a round toothpick could hold, as well as how the weight-bearing capabilities changed as she added toothpicks to her experiment.

While she was correct that a round toothpick could handle more weight than a flat toothpick, Tingey found that she underestimated the overall strength of the toothpicks.

“I was wrong — I thought the toothpicks would be really weak, but they were a lot stronger than I thought,” the 12-year-old said, adding each type of toothpick could individually hold double the weight she had hypothesized. “Looks can be deceiving.”

Tingey’s project was among some 240 displayed during the RBEMS Science Expo held May 5 and 6 in the school gymnasium, said Robin Adams, a sixth-grade science teacher.  The expo included science projects from fourth-, fifth-, sixth- and eighth-graders and was open to the community to attend.

Most of the projects featured in the expo were completed individually by sixth-graders, Adams said. “One of the sixth-grade standards is scientific inquiry, and the best way for students to get familiar with it and understand it is to do it hands-on themselves,” she said. “I hear them say all the time that they didn’t know it was so much work.”

Sixth-grader Isaiah Duncan, 12, said he felt a sense of accomplishment after completing his project in which he explored whether sugar helped a bean plant grow faster or not. “It felt good to have worked this hard growing the plants,” Duncan said. “I think I did OK for my first time ever doing a science project.”

As sixth-grader Sedona Schuehle walked around the expo looking at the projects on display, she shared some insight from her experience completing her science project. “In my project, I learned that caffeine doesn’t really help or hurt plants,” Schuehle said. “I think you learn more when your hypothesis is wrong because you learn from your mistakes.”

Adams said she was heartened by Schuehle’s perspective. “One of the biggest concerns I hear from students is that their hypothesis is right or wrong,” she said. “It doesn’t matter as long as they learned something from the whole process.”

Science expo winners were chosen among only the sixth-graders, Adams said, with Sara Tingey winning first place, Tristan Celluci taking second place and Hannah Shin and Andrew Holmes tying for third place.

Trisha McGonigle, who teaches sixth-grade science, said that although most of the expo’s projects seemed to focus on life science, she noticed an increase in this year’s offerings of projects in physical science, such as those that explored bridges, planes, aerodynamics and electricity.

Eighth-grade science expo participants, as part of their study of motion and physics, built catapults for their projects, said teacher Ivonne Santana. “It was a little friendly competition to see how far the catapults could shoot and how accurately,” Santana said. “They were very creative with the materials they used.”

Partners Emilia Gamble and Gage Armstrong fashioned their catapult with a wooden spoon and frame, and dubbed it “Miracle Max’s Magic Machine,” inspired by a character from one of Armstrong’s favorite movies, “The Princess Bride.”

Gamble, 13, said the pair hypothesized that the catapult would fire a marshmallow about 3.5 meters, but instead it went nearly 8 meters. Armstrong said the project really improved his understanding of energy transference and motion.

“Some catapults barely went half the distance of ours or barely got off the ground,” Armstrong said. “In making and doing ours, we were able to use the knowledge we learned in everyday life to gain more understanding.”