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Students demonstrate their scientific knowledge

Student scientists who will represent St. John the Baptist Catholic School at the Regional Science Fair in Mankato this spring are pictured here. In the front row, from left to right, are Andraya Thorkildson and Molly Barker. In the middle row are Lukas Hanson, Cassie Bauer, Julia Kurzawski, Grace Sieben, Ben Clemens and Shawn Thorkildson. In the back row are Isabelle Petit, Ben Zaccardi and Christian Strommen. (Star Gazette photo by Jane Lightbourn)

The students at St. John the Baptist Catholic School, Vermillion, know their science.

Last week, the annual school science fair was held. Participating in the fair is mandatory for third to fifth grade students and it is optional for other students.

"Our science fair was begun almost 14 years ago by a teacher named Angie Petit, who planted the deep roots of this program at our school," said volunteer coordinator Julie Strommen. "The goal back then, and still is, to introduce and excite student curiosity around the many disciplines of science through hands-on experiences."

She explained that none of the science fair project work is completed in the classrooms.

"It requires hard work and persistence to take a big idea and use real-world thinking to do something with it," said Strommen. "Some families do not consider themselves to be 'science families', but they make use of all sorts of tools available to select and guide their projects. Many students utilize people and resources in our community and business world for interviews and sources of additional information."

All projects are required to utilize the scientific method which includes: Asking a question, doing background research, constructing a hypothesis and learning about variables, testing the hypothesis with an experiment and determining a procedure for doing so, recording and analyzing the data into graphs and charts, drawing a conclusion, and communicating the results in a final report, abstract and display board. Students in third to fifth grades produced 30 science projects this year. Many younger students in grades preschool through second grade participated as well.

"In fact, this year we saw a 50 percent increase in the number of younger students who participated in the fair, representing an additional 20 projects," said Strommen.  

Judges come from a variety of sources and backgrounds. Many have a technical, science background, but others represent the education, math and finance sectors. This year many of the judges came to the school through the school's contacts with the 3M Wizards and the 3M Technical Forum organizations. Some judges have participated in all 14 science fairs, and many come back year after year, said Strommen. 

Each year, if school schedules allow, St. John the Baptist graduates who are seniors in high school are invited to return and judge the science fair.

"It is a beautiful way for us to see their initial introduction to science blossom into a career decision that will include studying medicine, genetics, engineering, agricultural research and other technical fields in college," said Strommen. "In fact, several college graduates today consider the annual science fair to be their initial, concrete source of a life-long interest in science." 

The South Central/Southwest Minnesota Regional Science and Engineering Fair is held in late April at Minnesota State University-Mankato. St. John the Baptist students compete against almost 600 other students representing 64 other schools in the region; many are Catholics schools.  Student projects represent the categories of Plant Science; Physical Science; Microbiology; Health Sciences and Human Performance; Family Consumer Science; Chemistry and Biochemistry; Behavioral and Social Sciences; Environmental Sciences; Engineering, Computers and Math; Energy and Transportation, Earth and Planetary Science; and Animal Science. St. John the Baptist is a strong competitor in the regional fair with a consistent record of bringing home many ribbons, special awards and first-place titles in many categories.