Sharon Springs student expo explores science

Eight-year-old Kaitlyn Roosevelt, a third-grader at Sharon Springs Central School, demonstrates an interactive model from her research project comparing a healthy lung to a diseased one during the school’s fourth annual STEAM expo on Thursday.Sarah Eames | The Daily Star

Students at Sharon Springs Central School packed the gymnasium Thursday afternoon to share their research, ideas and enthusiasm with more than 200 community members at the school’s fourth annual STEAM expo.

An outgrowth of the science, technology, engineering and mathematics — STEM — branch of learning, the STEAM classification also includes art.

“Everybody feels the arts are just as important, and the arts play into math and science,” said fifth-grade teacher Marie Davis. “Adding the arts is inclusive; it gets everybody involved.”

The interdisciplinary expo featured projects from students in all grades, Davis said. Participation was optional, and students completed projects on their own time under the guidance of a parent or teacher.

Third-grader Kaitlyn Roosevelt researched the effects of cigarette smoke on human lungs with the help of her sister, whom she said is studying to be a nurse.

Students in Erica Wimmer’s third-grade class compared the absorbency and strength of leading paper towels brands Viva, Sparkle, Bounty, Everyday Strong and the school’s brown commercial variety.

“This was a manageable project,” Wimmer said. “It’s not costly, it’s relevant and it’s fun.”

Project partners Marlin Carwell, 9, and Lucas Perry, 8, found Viva brand towels the most absorbent, holding 27 milliliters of water, and the school paper towels the least absorbent but the strongest, bearing the weight of 11 marbles while fully saturated.

Some projects explored the science and statistics behind historical events like the 1939 invasion of Poland, Disneyland’s opening day and the Jonestown massacre, and others invited audience participation, including a tornado vortex in a bottle, a genetic comparison between humans and fruit and test-driving a robot vacuum cleaner.

Fourth-grader Kaylee Crewell invited her classmates to “step right up” to her presentation on the mechanics of carnival games, providing foam balls and a couple chances at a pyramid of plastic canisters.

Initially hypothesizing that a pyramid with a low center of gravity would be easier to knock down, Crewell said she found the opposite to be true.

“The cans are hardest to knock down when they’re stacked two by two,” she said, “and it’s easier when you stack them one on top of each other in a tower.”

For future carnival-goers, Crewell recommended a two-pitch approach to the game, aiming first for the pyramid base and then for the peak.

Abby VanBuren, 18, tested the effects of high magnification stereoscopy, using red and blue filters to render a three-dimensional image when using a microscope.

Red and blue represent opposite ends of the light spectrum, VanBuren explained, and separating the light by wavelength helps to eliminate light interference.

“The filters create a more complex image when the light waves are reassembled under the microscope,” she said. “It’s helpful for scientists trying to see the whole organism.”

VanBuren said the project was inspired by her physics classwork. Now in the final months of her senior year, she said she plans to study biology and pre-med in college.

“I love science. That’s all I want to do,” she said.

The school stopped holding its annual science fair two years ago after district officials found it lagged in student participation and caused parents too much stress, according to Tom Yorke, an English teacher and the district director of education technology.

“Education is very siloed — there’s English, math, science — and because we’re so busy in our own silos we sometimes don’t notice what’s going on around us,” he said. “Any learning is never that neat and clean.”

Sharon Springs was the first district in the state to adopt the use of iPads for every student, Yorke said, and school officials sought a way to show how they helped students learned. Many presentations and displays included an iPad with supplemental video elements and interactive tasks.

“This was designed to be a fun, community-wide event celebrating learning,” he said. “The core reason we’re here is education, and this is an opportunity to bring family members to the school for more than just concerts and sports games.”

Sarah Eames, staff writer, can be reached at seames@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7213. Follow her @DS_SarahE on Twitter.