Fair introduces young students to scientific method

Jon Jaehnig/For the Gazette Over 130 Western Upper Peninsula students from fourth through eighth grades submitted projects to this year’s Western U.P. Science Fair, which took place at Michigan Technological University on Tuesday in conjunction with the annual Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics Festival.

HOUGHTON — The Twenty-first Annual Western U.P. Science Fair and Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics Festival held Tuesday introduced budding scientists to the scientific method.

The Science Fair held at the Memorial Union Building on the campus of Michigan Technological University was open to fourth- through eighth-grade students from schools in the five western Upper Peninsula counties and encouraged students to ask questions, form hypotheses and test their ideas using the scientific method. More than 130 students entered projects in the Science Fair.

“They’re able to submit projects either as individuals or as a group project,” said Emily Gochis, Western Upper Peninsula Regional Director of the MiSTEM Network. The MiSTEM Network is a state-wide organization encouraging STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) opportunities and education. The network grew out of an initiative to make Michigan a STEM leader under former Gov. Rick Snyder.

“We announced when the science fair is going to be back in November and the student packets and everything is online at that point in time but because these are pretty young children … it really just depends on when the teachers bring it up,” she said.

Getting an exact count on everything for the Science Fair is difficult due to a number of factors. Over 130 students registered for the event but some of the projects are group projects. Further, not all of the projects that are registered made it to the event, partially due to roof damage at the Barkell Elementary School building in Hancock.

Gochis acknowledged a lot of great STEM education happenx in the classroom but also pointed out opportunities like the science fair give them more “voice and choice,” and allows them to explore what they are interested in.

Project ideas ranged from testing what happens to rubber under when it is subject to different temperatures, to building batteries out of copper wire and lemons.

“This is a great opportunity for fourth through eighth graders. They really get a chance to do a lot of learning with this,” said Gochis. “It’s a tough process, it takes a lot to do this but they really do learn a lot about science and the process of science. It’s a really important way of thinking so it’s really a wonderful opportunity.”

There are also a large number of adults involved in putting the event together.

“(MiSTEM does) a lot of collaboration so I’m here with volunteers from the Copper Country (Intermediate School District) with tons of different volunteers and judges,” said Gochis. “There are over 100 volunteers that we have between the Science Fair and the STEM Festival, we have 52 judges that are coming, as well as 25 students from Omega Xi Epsilon, the Environmental Engineering students, and they are great for the logistics of the Science Fair.”

Top winners of this year’s Science Fair by school are Christian Besonen and Rex Strong of Ewen-Trout Creek, Maddie Minerick, Eddie Zhou and Billie Knewtson of Houghton Middle School and Audrie Wakeham and Macy Raffaelli of South Range Elementary School.