February 17, 2006

Where Errant Drivers, Electromagnets and Walnuts Intersect

District Science and Engineering fair puts the fun back in school projects

Some students studied types of mascara. Others studied gender differences in video game use or the effect of fin design on rocket flight. In all, about 120 students in junior and senior divisions entered projects in the Sweetwater Union High School District’s 8th Science and Engineering Fair, hosted recently by Rancho del Rey Middle School.

The student projects ran the gamut from practical applications of potential and kinetic energy (a wooden contraption that can crack walnuts and almonds) to studies of driver behavior at stoplights and stop signs.

PRESENTING RESULTS: Barbara Rios, a 7th grader at National City Middle School, was among 120 participants in the Sweetwater District’s Science and Engineering Fair. National City Middle had the highest participation among any school in the district.

“It was fun and frustrating at the same time,” said Castle Park High senior Victor Montoya of his project, the multifaceted nutcracker. “I went through a lot to put it together. I learned a lot.”

Christina Dickey, a National City Middle eighth grader, learned that the most expensive brand of cosmetics isn’t necessarily the best at covering blemishes. Her project tested various types of foundation. “Women are always spending a lot of money on cosmetics, like foundation,” she explained.

National City Middle sent 80 students to the fair, fueling their interest in fields such as physics, medicine, behavioral science and engineering. The school had more participants than any school in the district.

Gio Montenegro, a Mar Vista Middle eighth grader, examined driver behavior at a stop sign and a stop light in the Imperial Beach area. He kept a log of 200 vehicles as they approached at each of the intersections.

“It was fun, except for the time the motorcycle almost crashed into me,” he said, adding the motorcyclist hopped the curb before continuing on his way. Gio had theorized half the drivers would disobey the traffic rules. “I know how hypocritical adults can be,” he joked.

It turned out drivers weren’t quite as bad—only 30% disobeyed the rules as they “rolled” or blew through the stops. A significant number of drivers “sped up” at a yellow light rather than preparing to stop, according to his study.

Gio’s project was one of 16 in the junior division selected to be presented at the Greater San Diego Science and Engineering Fair in March. In the senior division, six Sweetwater District students earned the right to continue to the Greater San Diego competition.

Steve Rodecker, coordinator of the fair, said the event creates lasting memories.

“Ten years, 20 years from now, when students are asked what they remember about their school years, they’ll remember their science fair projects,” Rodecker said. “It’s one of those seminal moments. What it does is it elevates science in their eyes. …The Science and Engineering Fair combines everything a student knows how to do. They have to write, read, do math and, yes, there’s science. It’s all combined.”

Rodecker, the district’s high school science specialist, credited National City and Mar Vista middle school science teachers and partner University of California, San Diego, for making the event a success.

“They each did a fantastic job and it showed in the quality of student work,” he said.

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