Voyager science fair helps to prepare students for critical thinking

April 16, 2014 

While we enjoyed the crashing waves that battered the levy just outside our timeshare condo at Ocean Shores last month, Voyager Elementary held its always spectacular Science Fair.

Thanks to parent volunteer Shawna De La Rosa, who did a fantastic job, the story did not get lost.

The science fair is the brainchild of parent volunteer Sheryl Carlson. Her oldest son’s interest in science experiments inspired her to develop the fair. She partnered with then-Voyager science teacher Alexa Shanafelt to implement the first fair in 2010.

Five science fairs later, it continues to thrive.

I gotta tell ya, they are a blast to attend. Many of the experiments I witnessed at previous fairs seemed way beyond elementary grade levels. Most inspiring!

“Gold in the streams of Gig Harbor?” De La Rosa wrote in an email. “Taco sauce cleans pennies? Take the inquisitive nature of children, put it through a science project, and voila: interesting information one would never even think to ask pours fourth.”

The science fair boasted more than 250 entries which ranged from “how to prevent bread mold” to “which chips are the greasiest.” Kids are not inhibited by the niceties of avoiding possibly embarrassing or offensive questions.

Science fair fever is infectious at Voyager. Fourth- and fifth-grade students are required to submit projects, but many younger students are enthusiastic to participate.

First-grader Ellis Adamson tapped his love of digging and archeology to seek gold in local streams. After he gleaned sediment, he used his brother’s high-powered microscope to identify trace bits of the glittery metal.

Second-grader Alex Roberts wondered how he could make the fluffiest flapjacks.

“It turns out that pancakes made with both flour and baking soda produce the fluffiest pancakes,” De La Rosa wrote. “Unfortunately, fluffy doesn’t translate into delicious. Alex realized the most important part of pancakes is the taste. So he recommends the flour and baking powder concoction.”

Isabella Puccio, also a second-grader, wanted to clean pennies. She tried salt, vinegar and combination of both. In the end, taco sauce did the best job of making her pennies sparkle, De La Rosa said.

All students were required to use the scientific method, De La Rosa said. That means their results needed to be measurable. Fourth- and fifth-graders also were required to include variables.

Fourth-grader Dylan Amidon had heard that chewing gum can make a person smarter. It seemed like a far-fetched idea, so he put it to the test. He measured how long his family members took to complete a multiplication sheet while they chewed gum and while they weren’t chewing gum.

He found that the gum chewing slowed them down. He did further research, which showed that chewing gum helps to create more accurate memories.

Asia Dragovich, another fourth-grader, does not like mold on bread. She found honey prevents it.

Through her research, she discovered that honey is hygroscopic, meaning it absorbs moisture from the surrounding environment.

“Since mold needs moisture to grow, it makes sense that honey would prevent it,” Dragovich said.

Several experiments tested the abilities of household items.

Fourth-grader Cole Rushforth put the paper towels’ absorbency to the test. The more expensive brand came out ahead.

Kate Murphy, a fifth-grader, compared the stain-removing qualities of popular laundry detergents. She found the cheaper products work just fine.

Paige Gladstone found that hot weather makes helium balloons rise higher.

Max De La Rosa discovered that outdoor paint is best at protecting wood from salt water.

Curtis Carlson determined the greasiest potato chip has the highest amount of saturated fat.

“The science fair gives students an opportunity to investigate scientific questions they find interesting,” said Katelyn Irwin, a fourth-grade teacher at Voyager. “They learn how to take their questions through the scientific process and then get to share their conclusions in a fun way. At the science fair, it’s important for students to work through the scientific method, but the projects teach more than just science.”

Sheryl Carlson believes it’s important for students to work through the scientific method, but she said the projects teach more than just science.

“Students are gaining extra experience with time management, art and design, math, reading, writing and public speaking,” Carlson said. “Not to mention, it prepares them for middle school.”

And that’s good to know!

Hugh McMillan is a longtime freelance writer for The Peninsula Gateway. He can be reached at 253-884-3319 or by email at hmcmnp1000@

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