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Challenge School's annual Science Fair finds fitting home in new Innovation Space

Challenge School Science Teacher John Wiley works with students during the school's Science Fair on Jan. 16. It wasn’t the first time that the students at the Challenge School came together to celebrate the scientific method.

For the past 13 years, seventh- and eighth-graders at Challenge have taken part in the school’s annual Science Fair, an event that encourages students to tackle real-world scientific problems and offer practical solutions. The fair itself is the culmination of months’ worth of work for the students, who conduct experiments, gather data and make conclusions the entire first part of the school year.

“Our students have worked on these science projects since August,” said Challenge School science teacher John Wiley before the 2020 fair kicked off on Jan. 16. Wiley has helped organize the celebration of Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math (STEAM) for more than a decade. “The intent is 100 percent unique inquiry. Kids design their projects from the ground up – they research, execute and design from scratch.”

While the school offers lab resources and materials for students experimenting in subjects ranging from microbiology to physics, the students are in large part responsible for the success of their project.

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 more than 120 projects assembled by students working solo or in teams.

This year held a special significance for the event that’s long been a part of Challenge’s rigorous STEM education, which aligns with the Instructional Excellence priority spelled out in Cherry Creek Future Forward, the district’s roadmap for maintaining excellence well into the future.

Challenge School unveiled its newly refurbished Innovation Space at the beginning of the 2019-20 school year, and this year’s Science Fair took full advantage of the expanded resources. Instead of setting up their placards and displays in the gym, students proudly displayed their data and results in the expanded space that features interactive tools, flexible furniture and a state-of-the-art green screen designed for video production. Similar spaces have gone up in all elementary and middle schools across the district as a result of the generosity of district voters in the 2016 bond election.

According to Wiley, the expanded Innovation Space at Challenge has had immediate and observable benefits for students, and hosting this year’s Science Fair in the midst of the new furniture, dry erase boards and STEM tools was a perfect fit.

“This space reflects the innovative work we’ve been doing all year,” Wiley said. “They’ve used the green screen room for video production and they’ve sorted through their data at these innovation stations. This is the right place for it.”

As in past years, National Honor Society students from high schools across the Cherry Creek School District served as judges for the seventh- and eighth-graders’ projects; and as in past years, a select group of students from the Challenge Science Fair  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.

Being able to compete in a larger, statewide forum and being able to mingle with CCSD high school students helps the Challenge students take their classroom observations and insights to the next level, Wiley said.

“This process embodies the launch cycle and project-based learning,” he said. “We dive into those elements, and it’s a unique process for every single student.”

Posted 1/24/2020 at 11:15 AM