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Experts give science fair tips to young students

Third-grader Maryan Kazamel swings a pendulum during a demonstration by Amy Chan, a Mayo research fellow, at a science fair workshop Saturday at Century High School. The workshop was for kids entering the upcoming Gateway Science Fair.
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Melissa Amundsen remembers what it was like when one of her children was going to do a science fair project for the first time.

"I said, 'What is a science fair project?'" she recalled. "I had no idea. It's intimidating for people without a science background."

That in part is why Amundsen, a member of the Rochester GATEway board of directors, was helping out at the free science fair workshop, put on by GATEway at Century High School on Saturday.

The workshop was for students in grades 3 to 6, and their parents, and served as sort of a prep course on how to do a science fair project. Nearly all of the 40 students who took part are ready to embark on their first science fair project.

On Saturday, they received expert help from scientists, researchers and STEM students. Among the experts was Amy Chan, a Mayo Clinic graduate student who has been a science fair judge the past two years.


"I like it because I can give back to the community," said Chan, who is from Malaysia. "I feel like it's meaningful for me to contribute what I know."

When she was a young student in Malaysia, Chan said, all of her science education was in the form of rote memorization. She said she was amazed when she came to the United States to see young students learning science through a hands-on approach. Science fair projects, Chan said, are a great way to get kids involved in science.

"If you want to attract students and appeal to their passion," she said, "you have to make science relate to them and make it fun."

During an introduction to science fair projects by Stella Hartono, of the Mayo Research Fellows Association, students and their parents were told how, step by step, to put together a good science fair project. To start, students were encouraged to find something they're interested in investigating, and to come up with an experiment related to that topic.

Science fair rules and regulations, tips for designing an experiment, analyzing results and preparing a project board were all part of the presentation.

Then, the students were led through a couple of sample experiments by the scientists at their tables.

Elizabeth Wittlief, a Century High School junior and STEM student was one of the table leaders. "I love projects with kids and getting them involved in science," she said.

It wasn't until eighth grade that Wittlief herself got involved in science projects, so she was eager to help younger kids get a start in science on Saturday. "It would have been nice to have gotten involved earlier," she said.


Students do not have to be part of the gifted and talented program to participate in the Rochester science fair, Amundsen said. "It's very important to us that anyone can participate," she said.

The Rochester science fair will be held Feb. 21 at Mayo Clinic's Gonda Building.

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