• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

St. Leo still getting students ‘fired up about science’

When St. Leo School started having an annual Science Fair nearly 20 years ago, parent Delwin Jacoby said she wanted to get “kids fired up about science.”

Her sons are grown now, but this nurse who studies genetics, returned to judge projects at last week’s science fair because she loves science and has watched former students pursue careers in engineering and other science professions because they had an opportunity to be inquisitive at St. Leo.

“You’re not just giving them an assignment,” said science fair judge Molly Dawson. “They’re given an opportunity to choose what they’re interested in and what they want to do. And that is really important.”

Dawson, who will graduate with a degree in nursing this May, said she discovered a passion for science while advancing to the regional and state science fairs as an eighth-grader at St. Leo. Her behavioral science project explored why students learn more if they’re having fun. And that’s exactly why she sees value in a school science fair.

“The kids, they look forward to this project every year,” said St. Leo science teacher Tracy Borth before adding, “That’s always nice to see their enthusiasm for the sciences and new discoveries – on their terms.”

While human behavior has always been a popular area of study for eighth-graders, Borth said bacteria growth and microbiology sparked a lot of interest this year.

Eighth-grader Ashley Higdon decided to do a science project exploring the best method for defrosting meats because she wanted results that matter. After learning 3,000 Americans die of food-born illnesses annually, Ashley concluded in her project that defrosting meat in a refrigerator will limit the number of people getting sick from food.

“It’s fun to do,” said fifth-grader Caroline Rabinowitz of a science project, “because you can choose almost anything you want” to explore.

Knowing some kids cannot play with slime because they’re allergic to borax, she wanted to try alternative ingredients as a slime activator – with limited success.

“It’s a lot different from doing science in class,” said Caroline, “…It’s really fun because you get to make a big board and talk to people” about your scientific investigation.

St. Leo students begin doing science projects as a class in kindergarten before advancing to smaller groups who learn the scientific method, beginning in the third grade. Students start doing their own independent projects as fourth-graders, according to Borth.

“It opens up the door to self-motivated science too,” she said of science projects.

Eighth-grader Luke Gayou’s “Need a Lift?” was sparked by his desire to one day become an aeronautical engineer. He and sixth-grader Jackson Wasik, who used paper airplanes in his “Take Off” project, answered questions and learned during their conversations with St. Leo Science Fair judge Curt Clayton.

“It’s a real balancing act to try to listen to what they have discovered for themselves during their experimentation and then to … give them some suggestions and … some positive or negative feedback to make sure that they understand where they went right, and some things that they can improve upon,” said Clayton, a computer software engineer.

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