US Science Fair showcases student research and innovative experiments

The Third Annual US Science Fair took place in April and suffice it to say that the bar has been raised. Dr. Victoria Schulman, Science Faculty and Director of Student Research, comments, "There were 65 projects from 98 total students (compared to 50 projects last year) and all of them included stringent statistical analyses even at the Grade 9 level, every hypothesis was tested in at least three different ways, and finally, with the inclusion of student projects from the Advanced Science Program for Independent Research and Engineering (ASPIRE) program, this year marked the first time that students presented rigorous, high-level research that was performed off-campus in professional laboratories at R01-level institutions, namely Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and Columbia University, both of which are located in New York City."

The competition invited judges hailing from prestigious institutions both near and far, including Yale University, Columbia University, the University of Connecticut, Weill Cornell Medical College, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and the National Institutes of Health. These professional researchers were overly impressed with the level of detail and precision our Upper Schoolers displayed while completing original science investigations. (read their reflections below.)

Tom Castonguay, Chair Science Department, comments, "Dr. Eshoo has said that we want to teach students how to think, not what to think. As a scientist, I can't think of a better way to teach students how to think than to have them engage with the scientific method. That's exactly what King students do, and they do it better every year. The breadth of projects at this year's Fair was the largest it has ever been, spanning topics such as bomb calorimetry, robotics and machine learning, botany, cancer research, engineering, environmental science, homeopathic medicine, microbiology, sociology, psychology, and physics. I think there's tremendous value in letting students design their own investigations that follow deep curiosity. Once the personal connection is made, the students are hooked, and the experience is sure to be meaningful. The quality of the work showcased was definitely the result of hard work and a vested interest in getting the details right. The judges were unanimously impressed with how well the students presented their work. Some of us forgot we were actually judging the work of high school students! However, the US Science Fair - and by extension our PreK-Grade 12 science curriculum - diverges from the more traditional approach in one key respect; the experience is intentionally designed to be personally meaningful to them, which is why we allow students to choose their own topic regardless of the science course in which they are enrolled."

Dr. Schulman continues, "There's a Chinese proverb that states, 'Tell me, and I will forget. Involve me, and I will understand.' This captures the spirit and the purpose of the Science Fair. The way Science has been traditionally taught in school is lecture-style, information overload followed by regurgitation-based tests. However, this is not how real science is done. Dr. Castonguay and I are both former research scientists, and we can attest that real science depends on one's ability to be curious, to experiment, to doggedly find answers, and to defend your work in both written and oral formats. Being involved in discovery, instead of being told about discovery is how true learning and retention occurs. The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) that are sweeping schools across the nation echo this notion – and the Chinese proverb – by setting a Science curriculum that attempts to improve the way science is taught. NGSS calls for a shift from teachers telling students what science is to students figuring out what science is through student-led, inquiry-based investigation. The Science Fair allows students to engage in discovery and true learning via the Scientific Method by immersing themselves in original projects fueled by their own curiosity and personal interests. What we hope students gain from this experience is the ability to work independently to answer a question using sound logic and critical thinking. We also hope that they begin to develop the soft skills like time management, work ethic, self-confidence, and presentation skills."

Congratulations to the following Science Fair award recipients. Prizes will be distributed during the STEM Colloquium on Monday, May 20. The overall winner will be announced at US Prize Day, on Wednesday, May 29. Congratulations to all participants.

Students who participated provided reflections from the Fair:

"I think this process of independent scientific investigation is an important part of learning here at King because it provides an opportunity for students to collaborate and develop skills that we can use for the rest of our lives. Rather than just studying science, we are able to learn hands-on through the process of the scientific method." - Alisa Kukharkin, Grade 10, 3rd Place

"I really enjoyed being able to combine my area of specialty with my other classmates' to create a project that we were all passionate about." - Alex Lim, Grade 10, 1st Place

"Through working on the science fair this year, I learned a lot on the intricacies of working as a team, and discovered new and exciting ways to merge my interests and expertise with those of my teammates." - Ryan Heaton, Grade 10 , 1st Place

"Participating in the science fair was an eye opener to all the commitment and intelligence imbedded in King Students. My favorite part about participating in the science fair was being able to gather data from peers of different grades that I normally don't interact with. Everyone coming together to support my project and conduct an experiment was amazing." - Erica Cunningham, Grade 11, 3rd Place

[Referring to his own data] "My favorite part of the process was learning that the best time to take tests was 11:20 a.m. and now I can apply this knowledge to my studies." - Dalton Aysseh, Grade 9, 3rd Place

"My biggest takeaway from the Science Fair was that it is really important to plan ahead for experiments, because I found myself struggling to meet deadlines at times." - Ronnie Harvey, Grade 9, 3rd Place

Judges reflections from the Fair:

"It was clear to me that the student projects improved from last year.   I was especially impressed by the thinking that the students put behind their projects.  Scientific inquiry, utilization of the scientific method, and applicability in helping to solve real-world problems were in evidence at this fair.  I think that the students at King are very lucky to get such a great science education from such wonderful faculty and staff, who, in my opinion, are doing all the right things to develop the future scientists (not to mention, truly thinking leaders) of this world." - Yourha Kang, Ph.D., Professor of Plant Biology, Iona College

"As a King School Science Fair judge for two years in a row, I was impressed to see increasingly rigorous and high-caliber science produced by students still in high school. It was exciting to see students with the motivation to seek out equipment and resources to answer truly novel scientific questions about their own personal interests. Discussions with participants in the King Science Fair demonstrated that students possessed a mastery of their scientific methods and the confidence to accept constructive criticism from experts in the field – a valuable skill for scientists of all levels!" - Emma Sundberg, Ph.D., Cell Biology Department, Yale University

"The science fair at King School is a wonderful demonstration of how scientific inquiry, teamwork, and creativity come together to improve the students' knowledge and life skills. Students are able to learn about the subject of their project while simultaneously working on their critical thinking, communication, and problem-solving skills. The biggest improvement I saw this year among the students was the clear elevation in critical thinking and problem solving. Experiments fail all the time, that's why it's called re-search. However, it was tremendous to see the students come up with creative, and thoughtful solutions that still allowed them to address their hypothesis, even if it was using a different approach than they initially designed. These are real-world, transferrable skills that will allow these students to excel in whatever field they choose to pursue, but of course we hope this experience has also sparked their interest and curiosity for STEM." - Maeva Metz, Ph.D. Candidate, Immunology & Microbial Pathogenesis Department, Weill Cornell Medical College

For a full gallery of photos from the Fair, click here.