Scientific method applied at Burr Ridge school

The Science Expo at Elm School in Burr Ridge has exploded.

Not literally, but in terms of participation, said its organizer Sue Sprovieri.

Registration grew from 45 students last year to 91 for this year’s expo held Jan. 30.

Though no longer a teacher, Sprovieri, whose children attend Elm School, has been in charge of the event for the past four years.

“I got hooked by the principal,” Sprovieri said, to replace another parent who wanted to move on.

Any child in kindergarten to fifth grade could choose any project for the show.

“It’s entirely parent- and student-driven,” Sprovieri said.

She provides the student with the judging criteria. Exhibitor have to state their hypothesis, and then follow the scientific method with predictions, experiments, observations and conclusions.

If they follow the rubric, “everyone should be able to get first prize,” Sprovieri said.

All the students won either first or second prize, the three judges decided.

“There were no third places,” Sprovieri said. “Congratulate yourselves on following directions and the scientific method,” she told the students.

Third-graders Lily Song and Vinni Guo, both of Hinsdale, tested how adding salt or sugar to water affected the time it takes to freeze.

Their exhibit included photographs of the trays of water they froze and charts with their findings after 10 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour and 12 hours. Plain water froze quickest. Salt water takes the longest to freeze.

“Sugar molecules are bigger,” said Lily, so fewer sugar molecules would fit in the same amount of water than would salt molecules.

Lily and Vinni had made models of the molecules from toothpicks and gumdrops, but by the end of the expo two molecules were missing.

“Because they are made of gumdrops, people take them,” Lilly said.

Another pair of third-grade friends, Brooke Fiedler and Phoebe Paarlberg, explored whether boys and girls see things differently. They reprinted three drawings from the Internet, in which two different images could be seen. One black and white illustration, for example, could look like a white vase or the silhouettes of two heads facing each other.

The girls showed the optical illusions to their class and recorded what each child saw. The majority of each sex saw the same image, but the numbers were not identical.

“There are minor differences, (but) the numbers are very close,” Brooke said.

The expo gives students an understanding of the scientific process, Sprovieri said. And it gives them practice speaking to a judge and then speaking to their peers, and tests whether they can explain their experiment.

“It’s promoting science in a noncompetitive way,” Sprovieri said.

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