Leonardo’s Children’s Museum recently recognized the work of three young up-and-coming scientists at a science fair hosted by the museum.
The winners of the science fair are Garfield Elementary School fifth-grader Jude Newman, fifth-grade home school student Austin Lentz, and third-grade Pioneer Pleasant-Vale Elementary School student Bentley Cantrell.
The fair is a chance for Leonardo’s OGE Science Club members to put what they learn in their weekly meetings to use. In addition to bragging rights, the kids were awarded $100, $50, and $25, respectively.
Leonardo’s science club was established a decade ago, but was temporarily mothballed until its return in 2017. It was greeted with a $25,000 grant from OGE, hence the new name.
The museum had applied for a small grant from OGE in order to get the club back up and running.
“We asked for a sum less than $5000, which would help, but then they came across with $25,000,” Leonardo’s education coordinator Joyce Fales said. “We kept trying to figure out if it was a mistake, like did they mean to write $2,500?”
It wasn’t a mistake, and Fales said the check marked the start of a friendly partnership with the energy company.
While the name of the club has changed, the purpose is the same — foster an interest in science at a young age.
“They’re getting to work with their hands on science,” Fales said. “The kids get to make things, they get to play with it, and I’m sorry, but play is part of the learning process.”
Fales has a background in education. She taught in Kremlin-Hillsdale for 35 years, she said, and after retiring she joined the staff at Leonardo’s in 2009.
The first year back the club had five members, Fales said, and the membership roster has tripled this year to 15.
“This is my fun job,” she said. “I go to Leonardo’s, I get to play with the kids, and the nice thing is I get paid for it.”
At the two-hour meetings after school the kids try their hands at a variety of age-appropriate scientific endeavors. They build kaleidoscopes, solar ovens, terrariums, miniature windmills, and learn everything there is to know about what they’ve helped construct.
“They learn how it works, why it works and why it doesn’t work,” she said, adding it’s important to show that failure is an often-unavoidable part of science. “Sometimes science experiments don’t work … then we try and figure out why.”
All the lessons learned during a semester in the science club come in handy when it’s time for the science fair, she said.
Aside from the hard work of conducting a scientific experiment, and cataloging and presenting the results, each kid who entered a project also had to withstand the scrutiny and questioning of a judging panel that “didn’t pull any punches,” Leonardo’s education coordinator Joyce Fales said.
“One of the answers cannot ever be, ‘I don’t know, my mom did it for me,'” she said. “They’ve got to be able to speak and communicate to adults about their own science projects.”
The entrants presented themselves well, Fales said. Some of the projects treaded on familiar territory, like model volcanoes that demonstrate household chemical reactions, but were researched exceptionally well, she said.
“A lot of the schools don’t do science fairs anymore,” Fales said. Often there just isn’t time, she said, there’s so much material teachers are required to cover these days that science fairs can’t be squeezed in.
These aren’t projects that ask students to think well beyond their years, or to imitate the work they think a real scientist should do.
“I tell the kids that I do not want a project that is college quality, they are not college students,” Fales said. “I want something they are interested in and that they can do mostly by themselves.”