School students’ projects impress scientists

Published 17 September 2009

dropScientists at the University of New England were impressed with the quality and variety of the individual “science investigation” projects that 27 secondary school students from Armidale and Walcha presented to them earlier this week for judging.

The projects were the students’ entries in the 2009 Science Investigation Awards at UNE, a competition organised through the national Primary Industry Centre for Science Education (PICSE). UNE houses the NSW Activity Centre for PICSE.

The students, from every high school in Armidale and Walcha, were competing for awards and cash prizes of up to $120 each. Their projects – presented on display boards on Monday 14 September – investigated questions such as “Why do we not starve our kids?”, “How does stress in livestock affect weight gain?”, “Which food decomposes fastest?”, and “Which glue works best?”, and addressed issues such as “Computer screens and eyesight”, “The effect of colour on temperature”, and “The effect of salt on the growth of freshwater plants”.

One of the projects, “The dropped letter test”, investigated people’s responses to finding a letter on the footpath that had apparently been dropped accidentally on its way to the post box. Sorcha Harrop from Armidale High School dropped letters on Gold Coast footpaths, some of them addressed (in an adult’s hand) to a “business”, and others addressed (in a child’s hand) to an individual – the “father” of the “child”. The address on all the letters was, in fact, that of Sorcha herself.

“I wondered what people would do when they were confronted in the street with an aspect of their own life in the form of a letter, and which of these two ‘aspects’ would appeal more to them,” Sorcha said.

She found – to her surprise, she said – that the children’s letters were returned to her in greater numbers than the business letters, and that those she had left unstamped had even been stamped by the people who had sent them on.

Sorcha won the Student Choice Award for the “most interesting project”, and first place in the Encouragement Award. (Second place in the Encouragement Award went to Nicola Traise from Duval High School, and third place to Brendan Howe from Armidale High School.)

Sorcha said she would like to continue to follow her interests in life, including her interest in psychology – “particularly if it’s approached scientifically”.

Tim Williamson from The Armidale School was placed first in the Junior Scientist category, Laura Tillman from PLC Armidale second, and Karina Siems from Duval High School third. Sarah Baker from New England Girls’ School was first in the Primary Industry Award, and Georgia Diebold from PLC and Zoe Matthews from Walcha Central School were equal second. Georgia Diebold also won the Student Choice Award for the “best display”.

“The Science Investigation Awards is a new initiative of the UNE PICSE program,” explained Susanna Greig, one of the two Science Education Officers for the PICSE program at UNE (the other being Jane Shepheard). “Following the very positive response from the teachers, judges and students involved, we look forward to making this an annual event.

“Events like this, along with other activities run by the PICSE program, work to develop links between schools and scientists, and also to encourage and extend these students’ interest in sciences and develop greater awareness of the broad range of exciting and worthwhile science-based careers.

“Both Jane Shepheard and I would like to thank the judges (Brian Sindel, Robin Jessop, Peter Lye, John Stanley, Phoebe Barnes and Stephanie Cameron), and the sponsors who made the prizes possible: Armidale Dumaresq Council, Walcha Council, and East West EnviroAg.”

THE PHOTOGRAPH displayed here expands to show Sorcha Harrop with her project display.