Rising to the challenge



Six Medora High School seniors took advantage of an opportunity to spend the school year exploring a science-related topic.

They signed up for the independent research class knowing they could pick their own topic and explain their work in a culminating project, which was competing in the Regional Science and Engineering Fair at Ivy Tech Community College in Bloomington.

With this being a new class and the first time for Medora students to participate in a big science fair, science teacher Lizzie Johnson had no idea what to expect. Neither did the students.

But the four students who completed their project in time for the fair shined.

They returned home with one first-place finish, one second-place finish and two third-place finishes; three earned the Future Scientist Award; and one advanced to the state competition, where he has a shot at a $3,000 scholarship and moving on to an international competition.

“We were surprised and delighted to do so well,” Johnson said. “We knew that we had worked hard, but we didn’t know that our work would be comparable to other people’s, and we were pleased to see that it was. They’ve set the bar for success, for sure.”

Johnson said it was even more rewarding since the students chose their own topic and did all of the work for the project.

“I was hoping that it would be more student-directed, and I think they really rose to that challenge,” she said. “I’m just really proud of them, and I feel like this is an experience that has made me grow, as well, and made me excited about maybe doing the course again and growing the program.”

Senior Brevin Willis claimed first in the earth and environmental sciences category and received the Future Scientist Award, which goes to students with outstanding science fair projects.

His project involved using hydrochloric acid to test rocks. If that causes a reaction, they are limestone. If there isn’t a reaction, the rock is shale or sandstone.

Willis said he was happy with the results from his first big science fair.

“Immediately, the judges came to me and were like, ‘This is a very interesting project,’” he said. “It just pretty much flowed. It was so easy for me.”

Although senior Nash Bottorff placed second in behavioral and social sciences, the judges chose his project to go to the state competition, which is April 2 at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

He conducted a survey to determine how availability to technology affects people’s knowledge of current politics.

While he admitted it was nerve-racking competing at his first science fair, Bottorff said he adapted to it and was excited to be rewarded for his work.

“I didn’t think (qualifying for state) would happen, but it did, so you just kind of go with it,” he said, smiling.

Now, he will use the experience he gained from the regional fair to prepare for the state competition.

“I think it might be a little bit better because you’ve got the first one out of the way,” Bottorff said. “The judges will probably be a little bit harder, but it’s just something you’ve got to adapt to.”

Seniors Kam Flynn and Willis Abell both earned the Future Scientist Award and placed third in their categories.

Flynn entered the biomedical and health sciences category with his project of using a couple of methods to make teeth impressions.

Flynn said he is interested in becoming a dental hygienist or orthodontist, so this was an opportunity to apply that in a high school project and present it at the science fair.

“It was definitely a new experience, but I really liked it,” he said. “After so long, after each judge, they would give you tips and hints so you got better at explaining.”

For Abell’s project, he surveyed people to determine how personal demographics affect their opinion on marijuana legalization from medicinal and recreational standpoints.

“I had never been to a science fair before, and I never thought I’d ever be at one,” he said. “It was new, and I was pretty nervous when I got there. But after the first two judges went by and I got warmed up with talking about it, I got more comfortable with it.”

Entering her second year at Medora, Johnson said she thought she would be teaching a math lab course. But it turned out that students did so well on their math end-of-course assessments last year that there wasn’t a need to have two math lab teachers.

The seniors ran out of classes to take, and Principal Chrystal Street encouraged Johnson to talk to them to see what type of class they wanted to take. They chose independent science research.

“These guys chose to challenge themselves,” Johnson said. “They didn’t have to choose to switch course the first week of school and decide to take something difficult that they didn’t really know what it was going to be like.”

The first semester involved learning how to do academic research. That ranged from finding academic papers online and learning how to read them to looking at newspaper articles and popular articles on current research in science.

The students then decided their individual topics.

“We had them find one paper that they thought was really good that would interest everyone else, so we read each other’s papers and had class discussions,” Johnson said. “The kids would lead class discussions on those academic papers, and we would kind of delve into ‘OK, what does this paper mean? What are some of the criticisms we would make of the methods? How should this person move forward in their research?’”

During the second semester, they gathered and interpreted data and prepared for the science fair, which is coordinated by the Science Education Foundation of Indiana.

The foundation was formed in 1964 to provide resources and coordination for Hoosier students to attend a national science fair.

The first state science fair was conducted in 1988, allowing students to present their research to professional and academic scientists.

Then in 2006, the foundation hosted and coordinated the Intel ISEF, where pre-collegiate students compete for scholarships and prizes.

The regional competition consisted of about 50 students. Johnson said about half of them were from Brown County, while some others were from Paoli.

Each student had a trifold poster board set up on a table and spent 2½ hours explaining their project to judges as they went around the room.

Johnson said the science fair was a good experience for the students, and she hopes they got a lot out of it and the class.

“I think that being a smaller school, maybe they get their voices heard a little bit more than a typical student does,” she said. “I would have loved an opportunity like this in high school myself, and I think that they have found that they are maybe more capable than they thought they were.”

Willis said he had the choice of study hall, cadet teaching or independent science research, and he is glad he decided to go with the latter so he could explore new things.

“It definitely benefited my research skills,” he said. “I’ve learned quite a bit through Ms. Johnson’s help and my classmates helping me understand what I need to do to further advance myself.”

Flynn said the class will help him as he heads to college.

“In college, it will help me a lot writing research papers,” he said. “It was definitely a fun experience, and I would recommend it if younger students can take it. It’s really helpful.”

Bottorff said he always has been interested in social sciences, and it was a good opportunity to do research on that subject.

“I knew that Ms. Johnson would be able to help us out a lot more because there weren’t that many students, and she really helped us develop a sense and helped us get deeper and deeper into what we wanted to figure out,” he said.

Abell said participating and placing in a science fair will be something good to put down on a résumé.

“The concept of picking my own scientific topic and researching it, coming up with my own research and design and doing my own experiment was interesting to me,” he said. “I think it would be interesting to be a scientist of some sort, and this gives me an idea of how to go about that.”

[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”At a glance” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

Four Medora High School seniors recently participated in the Regional Science and Engineering Fair at Ivy Tech Community College in Bloomington. Here are their results:

Brevin Willis: First place in earth and environmental sciences and Future Scientist Award

Nash Bottorff: Second place in behavioral and social sciences and chosen to go to the state competition April 2 in Indianapolis, where he will be eligible for a $3,000 scholarship and a chance to move on to the international competition

Kam Flynn: Third place in biomedical and health sciences and Future Scientist Award

Willis Abell: Third place in behavioral and social sciences and Future Scientist Award


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