Gateway School Science Fair & Life Lab


Last week I had the good fortune to be invited to participate as a Science Fair judge at Gateway School. The opportunity to meet, listen to, learn from, and evaluate the efforts of local middle schoolers was an absolute treat. The experience afforded me a glimpse into the curiosities and scientific investigations of young minds.

Together with co-judge, Dorota, from Moss Landing Marine Labs, we entered our designated classroom to find ten independent project boards set upon the tabletops in an orderly fashion, starting first with 6th grade, moving to 7th, and then 8th. We had a few minutes to preview each before beginning the interviews and were intrigued by the various questions posed.

6th Grade

  • The Effect of a Rider's Emotion on the Horse's Heartbeat
  • The Effect of Different Activators on the Viscosity and Density of Slime
  • The Effect of Music Type on the Retention of Lyrics
  • The Theremin:  How Does Density Affect Frequency

7th Grade

  • The Effects of Different Exposures of UV Light on Bacteria
  • The Effect of Varying Materials on Blocking Cell Phone Radiation
  • The Effect of Fat Content on Bird Nut Selection

8th Grade

  • The Effect of Varying Amounts of Rock Salt on The Melting Rate of Ice Cream
  • The Effect of Horse Jump Height on Take-Off Location
  • The Effect of Ingredient Modification on Marshmallow Density

One by one, the student presenters entered the classroom to share their project with us. For the last few months, they had organized their materials list, designed experiments, collected and analyzed data, formulated their conclusions, and crafted their boards. It was now their opportunity to present their methodology and findings in roughly 10 minutes, to two complete strangers. With a bit of anxiety, each student, or pair of students, gave it their best and shined in the moment. We were so impressed.

For me, I’ve long since forgotten my Science Fair experience but the memories quickly returned as I witnessed these girls and boys describe their successes, mishaps, and unexpected discoveries. Memories of the critical guidance provided by teachers to help narrow and maintain focus of the objectives; dependence on classmates and siblings as test subjects; and parental assistance during the final days (and hours) of project board construction.

Science- and/or engineering-based research and design is not for everyone but the lessons learned by questioning, hypothesizing, and investigating are invaluable. The journey of discovery, whether through the application of the scientific method or not, especially at a young age, is extremely beneficial and can be adapted to all aspects of problem solving, both in school and in life. These Gateway School Science Fair participants were successful not only if their conclusions were right or if their hypotheses were “proved” but because they each crafted their own approach to answering a novel question.

Congratulations to all!


    Sea Odyssey & Life Lab

    In addition to volunteering time to judge the Science Fair, last fall O’Neill Sea Odyssey provided Gateway School’s Life Lab with a well-used watershed model for hands-on learning about point and non-point source pollution. Due to OSO's repeated daily use of this classroom model, it was necessary to replace it and we were so pleased to learn of Life Lab’s need for this valuable learning tool.

    Caprice Potter, Life Lab Science Teacher, provided this feedback:  “Can't express my gratitude enough as this is a huge benefit to our Life Lab program's year-long study of our local watershed and wetlands, with water quality testing and water conservation integrated in with 3rd grade trips to the San Lorenzo River and Neary Lagoon. The watershed model is used at least two different times a year by four groups of third graders in the fall and by the whole school and their families as they tour the campus on Ocean Day in the spring. The third graders demonstrate what they've learned about how a watershed works by teaching and demonstrating for the whole school and visitors on that day!”

    O'Neill Sea Odyssey is thrilled that the watershed model is so useful and love hearing about all the wonderful experiences and lessons. Thank you, students (and Elise), for the video and smiles.