The more than 130 science projects on display across the Challenge School on Jan. 17 covered a broad range of topics.
The school's seventh and eighth graders had conducted careful experiments focused on fields ranging from microbiology to neural science to sociology, and a crack team of expert judges were on hand to make sense of them. Specifically, a crew of National Honor Society students from high schools across the Cherry Creek School District navigated the building before the formal launch of the Challenge School's 12th annual science fair, carefully assessing the data, conclusions and procedures spelled out on cardboard stands that stood in rows in the school's gym, library, cafeteria and other spaces. One judge asked about controls and variables for experiments with data based on human subjects.
The high school students were judging the projects based on a precise set of standards used by scientific competitions across the state and the country. Involving these accomplished high school students and drawing from a professionally vetted and respected set of criteria for the school's science fair was important for John Wiley, the Challenge School science teacher who has helped organize the event for more than a decade.
"I sent an email to the National Honor Society, and these high school students responded," Wiley said, nodding at the students who were making their way from project to project. "They're judging on a rubric that's modified from the rubric that we use to grade the projects. It's based on the categories that the Denver Metro Project and that the International Science and Engineering Fair use; it looks at scientific thought, creative ability, thoroughness."
Thoroughness has long been a theme at the Challenge School's annual celebration of all things science. According to Wiley, the science fair is a chance for students of all interests to find an entry into science and a way to demonstrate expertise. The chance to conduct a real experiment in seventh and eighth grade is an opportunity for STEM-minded students, arts-minded students and everyone in between to know what's it's like to pose a theory, conduct research and draw conclusions. This year's fair featured 132 projects assembled by 150 students working solo or in teams.
"The students started these projects in September during the brainstorming phase. We wanted them to find something that they were passionate about in science, something they could focus on for a complete scientific inquiry," Wiley said. "The whole point of this is not just research, but conducting a real experiment."
With that mission at its core, the science fair has evolved in myriad ways since it first started 12 years ago, Wiley said. As students have assembled more than 100 projects on a yearly basis, teachers have had to keep up with the latest trends, queries and dilemmas from the wider scientific world. Wiley recalled a year when the school had to secure approval from the FDA to keep a pathogenic fungus on-site for an experiment dealing with tumors in plants.
"It changes every year. The science team here tweaks the process, and every year there's about 130 unique projects," Wiley said. "This year, we tackled a lot of microbiology projects and a lot of aquatic invertebrate projects; I had to learn how to buy these little creatures and house them and keep them alive."
The benefit for students is applicable, immersive experience in a whole host of scientific disciplines. As in past years, a select group of Challenge students will take their projects to the Denver Metro Science and Engineering Fair in February. These students will represent Challenge and compete against students from schools across the Front Range.
Competing at the state level will be the capstone for students who've been carefully working on their projects for many months. The length and complexity of the project offers its own rewards, Wiley said, for students and teachers alike.
"From a teacher perspective, I'm never bored and constantly challenged to keep up with the students," Wiley said. "For the students, the key is learning how to manage something big and complex. The science fair is designed to give them latitude and freedom to grow."
Congratulations to these Challenge School students, who will compete in the Denver Metro Science and Engineering Fair in February.
Nathan Yang, Computer Sciences
Trisha Balani, Earth and Environmental Sciences
Betanya Esayas, Earth and Environmental Sciences
Rithvik Ijju, Earth and Environmental Sciences
Raegan Knobbe, Earth and Environmental Sciences
Amanda Castillo-Lopez, Engineering
Ryan Chapman, Engineering
Ethan Eliason, Engineering
Utkarsh Mandavilli and Owen Morgenegg, Engineering
Neil Sury, Engineering
Kyra Gebicki, Medicine and Health
Ethan Singleton , Medicine and Health
Sophia Hansen, Microbiology
Sophia Haynes, Microbiology
Nishita Kotlapati, Brenna Toll, Microbiology
Tanishqa Puhan , Microbiology
Lauren Kempf, Plant Sciences
Emma Purvis, Plant Sciences