Michelle Davis, mom of a Miller Elementary School student, watched her son walk down the steps of a Rabobank Convention Center stage Tuesday. Tears welled in her eyes as a science fair organizer awarded 10-year-old Ian Davis a first-place ribbon for his project to test which hand-cleaning mechanism most effectively eliminated germs.
“I didn’t think I was going to get anything,” Ian said afterward.
He was one of about 700 students who participated Tuesday in the 26th annual Kern County Science Fair.
Only 53 participants earned first-place distinctions, and Eldred Marshall, coordinator of the fair, said many of those winners would fill the 48 slots held for Kern County in the California State Science Fair April 28 and 29.
But, Marshall said before Tuesday’s awards ceremony, “All of our students are winners.”
Rows of three-fold presentation boards — 650 projects total since some students worked in teams — filled a convention center stage behind him.
Students tested inquiries varying from ability of a homemade windmill to generate high levels of electricity to the type of salt needed to generate the most effective crystalization process.
Colton Van Hook, a fourth-grader in the Kernville Union Elementary School District, tested 17 different liquids to determine that fresh and processed lemon juice worked best as invisible inks.
And Alison Poon, a fifth-grader in the Greenfield Union School District, experimented with sandstone, limestone and shale sedimentary rocks to conclude that sandstone absorbs the most oil.
Students relied on memories of interesting projects they encountered in the past and research on science websites to pick from a range of ideas, but the fair also featured projects in which authentic inquiries drove student hypotheses and processes.
Muskaan Singh, a seventh-grader in the Panama-Buena Vista Union School District, said her mother inspired her to test if renewable and nonrenewable energy sources produced the same amount of heat energy.
”My mom always complained about gas prices,” she said.
As a result, Singh explored the subject area more and found that nonrenewable sources produced more heat energy.
It was one of at least two projects highlighted Tuesday that started with a mother’s grievance.
Elizabeth Tellez, mom of fourth-grader Nalanni Tellez in the Lamont School District, said her complaint about the cost of batteries inspired her daughter’s project.
She said she was not going to purchase any more batteries for Nalanni’s three Furbies, electronic toys requiring four AA batteries each.
Nalanni suggested her mother buy cheaper off-brand batteries, which then prompted the question that drove Nalanni’s scientific process: Does cost reflect battery life?
The answer is no, Nalanni found.
She tested four brands: Rayovac, Energizer, Duracell and Eveready.
Rayovac, one of two 99-cent brands, had the longest battery life of four hours and 25 minutes, according to Nalanni’s research.
Energizer, Duracell and Eveready (the second 99-cent brand) came in second, third and fourth places.
Nalanni earned an honorable mention ribbon at the fair Tuesday.
Students earned ribbons Tuesday in 53 categories of scientific projects ranging from the honorable mention like Nalanni’s to first-place winners like Ian Davis, the Miller Elementary School student whose project found that washing hands with soap and hot water was the best way to eliminate germs.
Educators at the event said the fair is a valuable learning opportunity as the state prepares to implement new Next Generation Science Standards.
The State Board of Education adopted the standards last year to replace current benchmarks that have been in place since 1998.
Scott Frank, a teacher and science fair coach in the Delano Union School District, said the standards, grounded in process-driven discovery and building models, will emphasize student ability to prove knowledge of scientific processes with performance and implementation of real-life models.
He added that the new model aligns with requirements outlined as part of the science fair.
“If they can do this, they’re light-years ahead of the Next Generation standards,” Frank said.