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Science Olympics Add Fun to Fair!

Written on April 10th, 2017

An excited buzz filled the gymnasium as students from seven Christian elementary students gathered for the first Science Fair Olympics, hosted by Jarvis Community Christian School last week. Teams of three or four students from various Christian schools huddled excitedly over their bags of materials—3 ping pong balls, 2 index cards, 3 mailing labels, a paper cup, a piece of foil, a rubber band, a piece of newspaper, 5 thumbtacks, 2 pipe cleaners, 4 paper clips, and 12 dried noodles—racing against the clock to create a gravity-powered device that could carry beans across the floor.

This was just one of several problem-solving challenges given to students who had qualified to move forward after winning prizes at their own school science fair. The one-day event was designed to give students the opportunity to enter their winning projects into a larger competition along with students from other local Christian elementary schools, and also to compete in a series of challenges that involved applying the scientific method and using their imaginations to design, test, and tweak various contraptions to complete designated tasks.

For the past twenty years, the top four science fair winners from each Christian school across the province have been invited to compete in a large-scale science fair competition at Redeemer University College in Ancaster. This year, however, it was announced that they would no longer be hosting this event for elementary students. As a result, several regional schools have been picking up the challenge of hosting and organizing a fair for the schools in their region.

“I love science,” shared teacher and event host Rachael Dykstra. “I teach science in grades 1-8, and at every level students love to get their hands into materials to build, design, and experiment. It was a lot of work to organize an event such as this one, but I believe that the rewards far outweigh the effort!”

Ms. Dykstra decided on three goals for the day—to extend the science fair competition for the winners in each individual school, to provide new opportunities for students to develop and use their scientific learning skills by entering challenges, and to encourage relationships through interactions with others.

To achieve these goals, she decided to divide the day into two parts. The first half of the day allowed students to set up their winning science fair projects and to share their results with guest judges. “When you stand back and look at the vast variety projects that students from each school have created, it’s obvious that there are so many things that they’re curious about. Science fairs give the opportunity and freedom for them to explore these interests,” shared Ms. Dykstra.

“I loved going around the gym and looking at the projects and ideas that other students our age are interested in!” shared Elly, a grade 7 student at JCCS. “The whole time that we were working on science fair projects in our own schools, we knew what everyone was learning about and could see the progress of the projects as our classmates were working on them. But it’s so fun when students from other schools come in to the gym in the morning and set up projects that we’ve never seen before, and to hear how excited they are about what they learned. It’s like a whole bunch of science classes in one morning!”

Her classmate Lucas also recognized that having others in the school to show their projects allowed for the chance to get to know something about each other. “I don’t think anyone would know by looking at me that I love big equipment, and that I could find a way to use it to test out something simple like how much to inflate a soccer ball. So just looking at what other students did their projects on can tell you something about who they are.”

The afternoon activities, appropriately named Science Olympics, were designed to build on the desire for students to interact and get to know more about each other. The focus shifted away from individual project presentations to team-building competitions, where students participated in hands-on problem-solving activities, like building the tallest tower using spaghetti sticks, using various materials to build a device to launch water bottle caps that could hit targets on a game board, and creating a gravity-powered transportation device to carry beans across the floor.

“The challenges were really hard, and we had to work fast to find out what strengths people in our group had so that we could work together and be successful,” shared Makayla, a student from Dunnville Christian School. Her classmate Silken agreed. “At first I wasn’t sure about working in the groups or if we would be able to be successful in doing the challenges. But they were a lot of fun, and it was a good way to get to know things about the people you are working with.”

“As educators, we’re always interested in the learning opportunities that exist in the events we’ve chosen for them to participate in,” shared Ms. Dykstra. “The Science Olympics was designed around several of them. The team events were designed to inspire inquiry into science and engineering techniques, to hone problem solving skills and creative critical thinking processes, to provide interactive and hands-on learning experiences for the students, and to promote teamwork and collaboration.” Out of all of them, Ms. Dykstra admitted that the last is her favorite. “Science is such a great way to pull people together,” she said.

Bernice Huinink, former principal of Woodstock Christian School and guest judge at the Science Fair Olympics, was also excited at the opportunity this event held for student interaction. “Science is a field in which student collaboration isn’t explored enough in Christian schools,” she shared. “I was thrilled to hear that there are others who are stepping up to take on events such as this, who are willing to work hard to promote the very skills that students need as they continue their educational journeys.”

Although Jarvis Community Christian School is not a large school, principal Chad Haverkamp was pleased that they were able to take a step to bring students together to celebrate their gifts in the area of science. “We are a small school, so we narrowed the event down to our neighbouring Christian schools in hopes to provide a similar opportunity to our students,” he shared. “JCCS has been moving towards the idea of building relationships with our local communities, and we love the idea of collaborating with other schools to promote effective learning.”

As students headed back to their respective schools at the end of the day, some held trophies and awards for their project presentations, but everyone carried a sense of satisfaction and achievement that comes from celebrating the talents that they have been given.

“It’s too bad the Science Fair Olympics is over, seeing as I’ll be graduating this year and I’ll never be able to do it again,” shared Natasha, a student from Jordan Christian School. “This was definitely a day I will never forget!”

Guest Journalist: Natasha Eckhardt

“I’ll admit, I was super nervous and excited, mixed with a feeling of anxiety, and I had butterflies in my stomach! This was my very first time ever entering the Science Fair Competition, and it would be my last, so I hoped nothing would go wrong!

After working for months on end with my partner on this once-in-a-lifetime project, we had actually been chosen as one of the top three finalists to go on from my Grade 7/8 class at Jordan Christian School. After getting settled in, and rearranging as well as re-rearranging the poster repeatedly until I was finally satisfied, I paced around the gym, observing the other projects. Every one of them was amazing and different, but all of them had one thing in common—they all proved how cool science is!

It was really incredible to see all the other projects, especially because we were all from Christian schools, and it also served one main purpose—to show how amazing God’s creation is! But, I also realized that my partner and I had A LOT of competition.

I had no idea what was planned for the day, but I did know we were going to be questioned by two different judges, and so that was enough for me! I studied and memorized my questions over and over again, until I could probably say them in my sleep, but I was more nervous than I was willing to take a break, so on I studied.

Now that it’s all over, being questioned was actually one of my most favourite parts of the day! Being able to answer all the questions and know what I was talking about, as well as sound professionally scientific was exciting!

Natasha Eckhardt, grade 8: Jordan Christian School