What is the real energy output from biomass fuels? How does the acidification of the oceans impact the planet? Is the five-second rule accurate when it comes to food dropped on the ground?
Students from the Challenge School tackled a wide range of scientific quandaries, from pressing environmental crises to enduring urban myths, for "Science Is Awesome," a science fair held on Jan. 11. Challenge students from seventh and eighth grades presented 138 projects to community members, offering formal presentations and fielding a wide range of questions from parents, teachers, fellow students and other community members. A life-sized cardboard cutout of Charles Darwin greeted the visitors who filed into the school's gymnasium to take in the presentations.
According to John Wiley, Challenge School science teacher, the event offered students a valuable opportunity to explore the scientific method in the best kind of environment. Instead of worrying about a final grade or other assessment, students who took part in the science fair conducted scientific inquiries for the sake of knowledge.
In formulating a hypothesis, conducting experiments and coming to a conclusion based on the results, students had a chance to discover important truths about their world. The outcome was the reward, Wiley said, and the students' experiments weren't designed to meet any single criteria.
Just as scientists in every field must deal with successful and unsuccessful experiments on a regular basis, these students made legitimate and challenging inquiries with varying results. While some students involved in the competition were also formally competing in the Denver Metro Science Fair, others were simply involved on a school level.
"The science fair is an opportunity to study something that's passion-based," Wiley said. "They get to dive deep and the get to do original inquiries. We give them a safe space to succeed or fail; there's nothing wrong with an experiment not working."
What's more, Wiley said, the format offered the opportunity for students to conduct their own research. Projects that ranged in category from biological sciences to physics and astronomy required a wide variety of background reading, and Challenge students had the opportunity to delve into all levels of scholarly sources.
"They looked at everything from peer-reviewed university texts to Encyclopedia Brittanica," Wiley said. "The differentiation has been through the roof."