Rim Country Middle School (RCMS) science teacher Carm Locke huddled at the far end of the gym, surrounded by more than 250 tri-fold presentations with science project results splashed across the white space.
“I was expecting 100, but we had more than 250 kids participate,” said the breathlessly excited Locke. “And the quality was fantastic!”
She pointed to a six-foot-tall tri-fold as an example.
The project was created by three students from Scott Davidson’s seventh grade science class — Cole Tenney, Arielle O’Conner and Elly Scheur. The three grappled with complex astronomy questions.
Admiring the work of Arielle’s handiwork, grandparents, Becky and Bob O’Conner slipped into the gym on Friday, Feb. 7 during the presentation hours of 8 a.m. to noon.
The two said the project could not have happened without collaboration between parents, Student Achievement Teacher Wayne Gorry and community member and astronomy buff Roy Matchk.
“They all went to Roy Matchk’s,” said Becky. “He stuck with it. It was the three of them and him.”
The students used Matchk’s telescope and spent hours at night charting, graphing and taking photos of what they found, said the O’Conners.
Locke said they then used the state project standards to present their material.
“Their board is six feet high, 30 inches deep, and four feet wide,” she said.
The board dominated the room and won the three students a spot in the county science fair and the district award of excellence.
But Locke said an impressive presentation did not necessarily move a project to the next level. The students must also demonstrate how they used the scientific method to answer a question they asked in order to gain recognition.
“They can take a question that is ‘not important’ and if they applied the scientific process, we gave them credit,” Locke said. “What we wanted them to know was, how did they apply the inquiry process.”
She pointed to Michael Staudt who asked the question, ‘Is someone stronger if they’re blindfolded or if they can see?’
He had two students raptly listening to him as he explained the process that won him a ribbon. Students had also explained their projects to the judges during judging the day before. Locke said the quality and quantity of the projects made the judging for the teachers and community members tough.
The county will only allow Payson to send 16 high school students and 12 fifth through eighth grade students to the competition in Miami at the Bullion Plaza Cultural Center and Museum on Wednesday, Feb. 26.
Gila County Superintendent Linda O’Dell said 21 students from the county went onto the Arizona State Science Fair last year.
Judges at the county level will determine the students that move onto the state science fair competition from March 31 through April 2 in Phoenix.
Beverly Adams, the science department chair at the high school said animal science, ecology, statistics and biology classes participated in the district fair.
She explained how she prepared her ecology class.
“My ecology students started their projects last semester by conducting a research project on a topic in science that would eventually lead to a question they could investigate for their project,” said Adams.
“Their projects were conducted during the month of January. The class has done many investigative labs during the course of the class that helped prep them to understand how to format their investigation.”
As students flooded the gym to see how their projects were judged, yelps of excitement filled the air.
Many students came up to Locke to breathlessly ask, “We were selected to go to county — what do we do?”
Locke smiled and told them not to worry; they would be prepared by the time they went.
“This was way over what we expected,” said Locke looking out over all the students and projects, a glow in her eye.
For more information on the Gila County Regional Science Fair and other upcoming events of the Gila County Schools Office, please visit www.gilacounty schools.org.