From the slime to the ridiculous

400 experiments at Gutt elementary school science fair

For anyone curious to know the best detergent to use for cleaning, Anna L. Klein School in Guttenberg was the place to be the week of March 21. That was when scientists presented the results of their experiments, including comparisons of various cleaning products.
“I have raspberry yogurt, olive oil, ketchup, and mustard,” said fifth grader Najat Hijazi. “I tested with a Tide pen, a Clorox pen, and an OxyClean pen on each one.” Hijazi was displaying her project, entitled “Clean it like you mean it,” at the school’s annual science fair, a three-day event in the gymnasium.
Every kid in grades five through eight is required to create a science project for the event, which is then judged by a pair of teachers. The kids choose their own topic for the project.
How did Hijazi come up with hers? “I’m always doing laundry and I looked at these and was like, ‘These can be my science project,’” she said.
Not far away, Leyla Fuentes was testing dish detergents to see which was the best stain remover. And Bryana Arias was pitting Ajax against Dawn and Palmolive detergents in her “Soaps and suds” project, which she said was a lot of fun, “Especially dirtying everything.”

Bilingual initiative

Each grade comprises about 100 kids. Fifth and sixth graders descended on the gym on Monday, one class at a time, to present their projects, followed by seventh and eighth graders on Tuesday. Each project consisted of a large cardboard display designed by the child, containing descriptions of their project and results, along with photos, objects, illustrations, and whatever else they deemed pertinent, with some showing admirable imagination and ability.
A pair of judges reviewed each project and spoke with the kids individually. On Monday those judges were seventh-grade science teacher Valerie Hoyos and eighth grade science teacher John Weber.

“It’s a good hands-on experiment where they can research something they’re interested in.” –Michelle Rosenberg
“We want to know if they can actually explain what they did and how they did it,” said Hoyos. “It’s not just the display board.”
After two days of judging, the finalists come back on Wednesday, parents night. “We select the top three from each grade,” said Weber. “The first place winners from each grade get to come next year to the Hudson County Science Fair at Liberty Science Center and compete with all the other schools in the county.”
In addition to the competition aspect, projects are also graded by the individual teachers for class credit. “Hopefully they’re finding something that interests them so that they can explore more about the topic,” said Hoyos.
Teachers provide a list of suggested topics, but kids are encouraged to find their own. Many search the Internet for topics. “They hand in a proposal and we have to okay the topic,’ said sixth-grade teacher Dennis Hoehl. The goal is for the projects to get more difficult each year, along with the presentation.
“In seventh grade they have to write a four-page written report,” said Hoyos. “They have to include research and be very specific in their conclusion. They have to state whether or not their results support their hypothesis or reject it. So it’s a little more intense.”
“The kids like it,” said Superintendent of Schools Michelle Rosenberg. “It’s a good hands-on experiment where they can research something they’re interested in. There have been some projects that have been phenomenal, where kids do things like compare McDonald’s meat to other chopped meat. There have been some really interesting things over the years.”
The school provides the materials for the display board, with much of the research done in class. “The cutting and pasting and a lot of the experiments have to be done at home,” said Rosenberg.
While the bulk of the presentations are in English, a small subset are in Spanish if the students feel more comfortable that way. “We have a push-in class on every grade level that’s bilingual,” said Rosenberg. “The bilingual teacher pushes into the class to assist with bilingual students. Rather than pull the students out, they learn English much better if they’re immersed in the class.”

Melting crayons and diaper mysteries

Some of the experiments were pure whimsy. “What type of candy can explode soda the best?” read one display board. “Slime vs. Plastilina,” said another, referring to the modeling clay.
“I was trying to prove that crayons can melt,” said David Delacruz, who stuck crayons in frying pans and microwaves and set them on fire. (Result: they melt.) Ada Medina wanted to see if egg yolks would harden into spheres if dropped in soda or vitamin water. (Yep.)
Others were more technical. Anthony Perez built an electromagnet and tested different metals for their magnetic properties. Litzy Lascano tested different brands of salt to see which melted ice faster. “The salt raises the freezing temperature,” she explained.
And then there were the purely practical experiments. Juan Perez’s “Diaper mystery” project compared Huggies, Pampers, and Parent’s Choice diapers to see which was most absorbent. “I took a measuring cup and put two cups of water in the diaper and I gave it 25 seconds to absorb the water. Then I flipped it over to the measuring cup again and the water that didn’t absorb came out,” said Perez. Asked how he came up with his topic, he said, “I have a little sister at home. She uses a lot of diapers.”
Next to him, Melissa Saenz presented the results of her experiments on nail polish. “I wanted to see which nail polish would work better if you have a lot of things to do on a daily routine,” she said. “I always paint my nails and they wind up getting chipped a lot.”
Jeremiah Polanco indulged his interest in bridges to build models of both a suspension bridge and a beam bridge and compare their strengths. He designed a test and piled on pennies to see which held up better.
“I always study bridges,” he said. “When I go on a bridge I always look at the coils.” In researching his science project he found a bridge experiment online and revised it to his taste. “It was supposed to be two other types of bridges, but I made these bridges because these are my favorites.”
The result: suspension won.
Elsewhere on the floor, the Tide pen took top honors among detergents, Dawn won first place in the dish detergents, and Pampers handily beat the competition in the “diaper mystery.”

Art Schwartz may be reached at

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