School explores science at expo

Silas Stringer accepts his trophy from Oak Hills Elementary School principal Luis Gamarra at the Oak Hills Elementary School's STEM Expo on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017. Katharine Lotze/Signal

A bath bomb that fizzes longer, an at-home renewable energy generator, a small wind turbine. These are just a few of the inventions that were on display for family members at the first-ever Oak Hills Elementary STEM Expo Thursday night.

“Last year I saw the projects and it was pretty cool,” said sixth grade student Jessica Thompson, 11, whose project compared the effects of whitening toothpaste on one’s teeth. “I enjoy science.  It (STEM) gives you a different experience than normal science would.”

The expo was a culmination of the annual science fair, open to all of the elementary school students in transitional kindergarten to sixth grade.

In total, 192 students participated in the event, which required each to perform background research, execute a project and present his or her work in poster form at the expo.

All 92 third-grade students from Oak Hills Elementary participated in the science fair.

Dani Clewis, 8, smiles as she walks off stage with her third-place trophy at the Oak Hills Elementary School’s STEM Expo on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017. Katharine Lotze/Signal

They began work on their projects in November where they developed an idea, created a hypothesis, completed a process of discovery, tested their hypothesis and presented their final work.

Project topics from the 192 students ranged from science, technology, engineering or math as students explored their own questions surrounding computers, engineering, design, mathematics, chemistry, physics and life sciences.

“We’ve had a science fair in years past but this is our first STEM expo,” Oak Hills Elementary Assistant Principal Wendy Maxwell said. “Science lessons are moving in the direction of the future for our science curriculum and it’s really encouraging to have those hands-on learning experiences.”

Third-grade teacher Cindy Wetterau said the revamp of this year’s fair was done to incorporate elements highlighted in the new Next Generation Science Standards.

“This is the first of many to come,” she said. “We wanted to update the fair since science is changing to go more toward these areas with the Next Generations Science Standards.”

Prior to the expo, community judges with backgrounds in education, engineering, architecture, technology and biology individually interviewed each student and chose grad-level award winners.

Tonia Cohen, the school’s Parent Teacher Association vice president of finance and science fair coordinator, said the judges represented an even number of men and women and that none were parents of students involved in the fair.

Cohen, a former science fair judge herself, also updated this year’s fair to align with the requirements and regulations set forth by the annual Los Angeles Science and Engineering Fair.

The change will be beneficial for the school’s sixth-grade winners, who are now eligible to advance to the 2017 Los Angeles County Science and Engineering Fair in Pasadena.

Through the science fair, Oak Hill teachers and parents hope the projects encouraged the students to explore scientific investigation, develop their speaking kills and cultivate an interest in multiple areas of science education.

“We really are moving in a science direction,” Maxwell said. “We have a strong parent commitment that wants to bring more life to science education.”

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