Scientific method on display at VMS fair |

Scientific method on display at VMS fair

Scott N. Miller
Preston Utley/Vail DailyJudge Brett Falk, left listens to Callum Rowland, 12 as he presents his discoveries on how liquid freezes depending on its color.

VAIL – Big brothers often wonder what’s wrong with their younger siblings. That age-old question gave Stefan Sterett the idea for his science fair presentation, “Comparative memory testing.”A seventh grader at Vail Mountain School, Sterett was one of 55 seventh and eighth graders participating in Monday’s science fair. And, like most of the students, his demonstration gave him a good taste of the scientific method, the age-old system of asking a question, then answering it in a provable, repeatable way.Sterett’s bashfully acknowleged that his little brother, a third grader, provided his hypothesis that seventh and 11th graders have better powers of concentration and recall than younger students.To test his theory, Sterett’s dad, a local physician, provided a copy of the “standardized assessment of concussions,” a test given to patients who have recently suffered a head injury.Working over the course of several weeks, Sterett gave the test to a number of third, seventh, and 11th graders at Vail Mountain. His findings essentially proved his original hypothesis. The biggest jump in recall occurred between third and seventh grade, and the biggest jump in concentration came between seventh and 11th grade. And, while Sterett’s theory originally held that there wouldn’t be any difference between the sexes, the boys he tested did a bit better at recall and concentration than the girls.Sterett’s testing involved quite a few students, but not as many as fellow seventh grader Betsy Batts, who took the pulse of 50 Vail Mountain students.Batts’ theory was that a person’s heart rate increases with age, since the heart has to pump more blood through a bigger body over the years.To test her theory, Batts checked the resting heart rate of 10 kids in each of five classes at Vail Mountain, from Kindergarten through 12th grade.

To her surprise, the resting heart rates actually decreased as her subjects got older.”It was a little surprising,” she said.And that’s when science fair experiments can be most useful, said teacher Rebecca Dion.”That’s one of the better lessons,” Dion said. “Sometimes kids will get pretty upset when the results don’t match the theory.”Developing skillsBut learning how to prove a theory in a way anyone can repeat is a crucial part of developing critical thinking skills teacher Brett Falk said.”They can look at information they see and hear with a critical eye,” Falk said. And, in an age when advertising and other claims bombard just about anyone with a TV, knowing how to separate good evidence from bad is a good skill to have.Working a science fair problem through to its conclusion can also spur a degree of creativity. Meredith White had to do a little invention in order to find out what color of light shines best through fog.

First, the seventh grader had to learn just what fog is. Then, to reproduce the visual effect, she had to mix milk with water. Once she reproduced fog in a baby food jar, she passed different colored lights through the mix. A light sensor on the other side of the jar measured the amount of light breaking through the simulated fog. After testing three colors and natural light, and going through 20 individual tests, White’s conclusion matched her hypothesis that yellow light pierces fog best because of its long wavelength.Looking at the future While White’s science fair topic was recommended by her teacher, Mary Sackbauer’s project came from her own interest in gravity and slope.Sackbauer tried to determine whether the steepness of a slope would affect the speed of a ski headed straight down the fall line. In this case, her hypothesis was spot on. If all other conditions are the same, a steeper slope will make a ski go faster.This is something Sackbauer, a racer with Ski and Snowboard Club Vail, knew from her own experience. But Sackbauer’s presentation also reflected some of her own goals.”Someday I could build a mountain,” she said. A family friend designs ski runs, and Sackbauer has seen how he uses slope angles in his work.”I know I could do that some day,” she said.Learning how a mountain and gravity work together is a good start.

Staff Writer Scott N. Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 613, or mindsSometimes an experiment is better because of what it’s called. Here’s a sampling of presentation titles from the Vail Mountain School science fair.• Boing, Smash, Clank, Swoosh: Who will fly the farthest? – Jake Brauns• How fast is your Swix Wax? – Josie Tuthill

• Making the quake – Forrest McKinney• Think twice about eating snow – Robert Wear• How is your stomach feeling? – Anthony Ryerson=========================== Vail Daily, Vail Colorado

Support Local Journalism