Urbana students gather to share science expertise

Urbana students gather to share science expertise

URBANA – If the word "red" is written in the color orange, is the color harder to recognize?

Troy Cobb asked that question – and then she answered it.

Using the Stroop Effect – a psychology term about interference in the reaction time of a task – the Thomas Paine Elementary School fifth-grader showed how brains process getting two answers at the same time.

She showed words written in the color the words said (so "red" was red) and timed it. Then the 11-year-old timed a reading for words written in a different color (so "red" was colored blue).

"It takes longer for adults to do it because they want to read so bad, but they have to (look at) the color," Troy said. "Kids from my age group, they can do it a lot faster.

"It's a kind of fun game that challenges your brain."

At Thomas Paine's annual science fair, held Friday at the Urbana school, practical lessons were the order of the day, and the teachers of those lessons tended to be pretty short.

It's "an opportunity for kids to show what they've learned in science," said Phyllis Peete, a fifth-grade teacher. "They get a problem and they get to solve it."

Peete said the school has been doing the science fair for at least 25 years. "My first science fair was primitive compared to what we have now," she said, gesturing at a gym packed with dozens of projects and people running around looking at them.

Interim Principal Ken Paxton said a favorite project came from the kindergartners, who demonstrated the power of the five senses, partly by using gummy bears. Subjects closed their eyes, got a bear to eat, and had to guess the flavor without seeing its color.

"It gets them excited about science. It also teaches them a lot about the scientific method," he said, "to be able to look at things very objectively."

He said the projects encouraged the students to get excited about science, and incorporated a wide variety of skills, from math to art to public speaking.

Dad Shaabani Mandela watched proudly as his daughter, Kayla J., led him around the room to her favorite science projects, including a volcano. He's happy to support anything where she's excited about learning, he said, and likes the hands-on aspect of the fair.

Kayla's own project took weeks of planning, as she demonstrated how plants grow – or don't – if they don't have light or water.

Kenneth Patton did his own crime scene investigating (minus the crime) when he studied fingerprints.

The fifth-grader's original theory was that kids would have the same print as one of their parents. But by studying different marks on several families' prints, he found that children had similarities to their parent's prints, but weren't the same.

"My hypothesis was not supported, but I really had fun with it," Kenneth said. "I want to find out more stuff about fingerprinting and all that kind of stuff."

For Troy, she's excited about her project, no matter how long she has to wait for a subject to finish naming colors. "It's cool," she said, "because it's a funner way of learning than just sitting at your desk reading a textbook."

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