US Students Encouraged to Think Like Scientists

Ever wonder about the ideal PSI for throwing a football? Or the best weather to fish for Bass? Or maybe you've been wondering how light and heat affect the rate of fermentation of alcohol from yeast? As our US Science students learned, to answer these questions, you first must think like a scientist.

At this year's first Annual Upper School Science Fair, students showcased their ability to approach questions scientifically by presenting their hypothesis-driven science experiments to a group of internal and external judges as well as the greater King Community during the two day event in May. "The overall objective of the project is to develop the ability to use the scientific method of research and discovery and to learn how to critically assess data sets and come to logical conclusions," explained Dr. Victoria Schulman, Science Faculty, who spearheaded this year's event.

Before coming to King, Dr. Schulman worked in the field of biomedical research, focusing on human genetics at Yale and Sloan Kettering. Using her previous background as a professional scientist, Dr. Schulman, alongside Dr. Tom Castonguay, Chair of Science Department and Director of STEM, integrated the Science Fair project into Honors and AP Biology, Chemistry and Physics classes. The Science Fair was also open up to any US School students who were interested in participating, with several students/teams submitting a project as an opportunity to explore their interests in science.

Students, working independently or in small groups, started the project by posing a question that could be answered using scientific research. Students were encouraged to rely on their interests to guide them, as there were no requirements on the "type" of science used. From there, students formulated a hypothesis (a tentative answer to their question) and tested it. In the end, there were 44 projects with topics ranging from Behavioral Science, Psychology, Biology, Physics, Math, Earth Science, and Chemistry.

"For many students, it is challenging to bridge the gap from science theory and facts to actual science application" explained Dr. Schulman. "Our students have all the tools and skills necessary to apply their knowledge, but sometimes to make that leap to independent application they need a little push and some guidance."

To complete the project, students had to do much more than just think like a scientist, they had to present like one too. "A poster presentation is the most popular way science is reported to other scientific researchers at national and international conferences," explained Schulman. "Our Science Fair, while smaller in scale, is intended to simulate how real scientists communicate their findings in the real world."

Phillip Bradford, Ph.D. Associate Professor in Residence, Director of the Computer Science Program, University of Connecticut, Stamford and Kathryn S. Kalasinsky, Ph.D., a Scientific Review Officer at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD, served as external judges for the Science Fair. Both judges were surprised by the depth and range of the student work. "The students looked at questions of processes they had observed in their own lives. Many of them were very ingenious," commented Dr. Kalasinsky. "I learned something interesting from every presentation I visited," commented Dr. Bradford, "I saw projects on climate change, the physics of video games, Young's Modulus and fundamental frequencies, and the effects of note taking".

Grade 9 Winning Project:

Thomas King & Kaden Lints

"Eyesight and Screen Time: Does watching an electronic screen temporarily impair your vision?" (Biology-based project)

Grade 10 Winning Project:

Natasha Aysseh & Elena Teeter

"That's So Cheesy: Do different types of milk affect the quality of the resulting mozzarella cheese that can be made?" (Chemistry-based project)

Grade 11 Winning Project:

Max Helman, Jason Liu, & Nick Shpetner

"Constructing a Gauss Gun: Can you use momentum, electricity, and magnetism to accelerate an object?" (Physics-based project)

People's Choice Award Winning Project:

Abby Price, Renn Lints, & Ezra White (Grade 11)

"Conductivity of Liquids: How does conductivity differ for different liquids?" (Physics-based project)

Overall Winning Project:

Thomas King & Kaden Lints

This project received the highest numerical score out of the above-listed winners.

The Overall Winners, Thomas King '20 and Kaden Lints '20, Honors Biology students, were inspired by comments by Thomas' mother about how computer screens affect eyesight. After coming up with a hypothesis with his partner, they engaged Dr. Schulman for guidance. Thomas reflected, "From there, Dr. Schulman helped mentor us. She refined the idea and helped come up with effective strategies to test our hypothesis." The winning partners each received a new iPad mini to help with data collection for their next scientific investigation.

In the end, students learned the ability to "think like a scientist" extends far beyond the confines of traditional science disciplines. "There is an analytical procedure that they can use for all problem solving, not just science questions," explained Dr. Kalasinsky.

The Science Fair is just one part of an overall emphasis by the Science Department to provide more hands-on, application-based experiences for students. As Dr. Castonguay explained, "The Science Fair is a great opportunity for us to instill core science and engineering practices of the Next-Generation Science Standards (NGSS) in our students and to provide them with an opportunity to independently apply their mastery of the scientific method."