Over 100 Suffolk County schools, including those from the Sachem Central School District, take part every year in Brookhaven National Lab's (BNL) Elementary School Science Fair. More than 500 children in grades kindergarten through sixth competed last weekend.
The winner (one for each grade level) was awarded a medal and banner, which can be displayed next to their schools' sports banners. Each student got to go home with a ribbon for their participation in the fair. Honorable mention medals were also bestowed. BNL scientists and elementary school teachers judged the competition.
The students' diverse projects included charts, experiments, demos, diagrams and collections with a scientific objective. In order to make it to the competition each student had to win in their grade level at their school. There were approximately 20,000 eligible students in the running, so all who made it to BNL are to be commended.
"This is one of our favorite days. We love to see the young scientists that work so hard to put their projects together for today," said Ken White, manager of The Office of Educational Programs at BNL.
Robert Mankowich, a second grader from , was selected to present his project called "Up, Up and Away." In it he used two different kinds of balloons (rubber and foil) to see which stayed up the longest. He won last year for his grade as well.
"[I learned] that a foil balloon can stay up longer than a rubber balloon," said Robert.
Robert's mother, Lucille Mankowich, believes these projects provide a valuable and unique learning experience to students.
"I think it's a really great thing," she said. "It teaches kids that you need to be patient; projects take time. It teaches how to pick something you're interested in, and have questions about. It teaches how to go through the process. This is something they do independently at home."
It took Robert about 32 days to gather the empirical evidence, which he assiduously recorded in his logbook.
"At Gatelot they make a big deal about it," his mom said. "All the kids bring projects in to present to teachers and peers, and they ask questions. In the evening there is a big fair where parents and teachers come to see. The teachers set up different experiments in the hallways, so kids can all try."
Other projects on display at the fair included "The Lemon Tuner", which ascertained that three lemons produce enough energy to power up a guitar tuner; "The Problem with Video Games?", where a young scientist proved that playing video games actually helps to develop problem solving skills; and "Hidden Sugar", which determined that children are not aware of the amount of sugar in their food.
"We're here to celebrate young minds, students who are really inquisitive," said White. "In science, more often than not, you come up with more questions than answers; which is a great thing. It keeps your mind fertile."